A woman who thought her online partner was a soldier in a peacekeeping group in the Middle East was planning to send him more than $50,000 before she discovered she was caught in a complex relationship scam.
It was one of many scams detected by BNZ over the past year.
The bank said it had seen a 54 per cent increase in the number of scam victims targeted in the past 12 months.
The amount of money lost had also increased.
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Ashley Kai Fong, head of financial crime at BNZ, said in 10 years in banking, he had never seen this level of scam activity before.
“It is getting worse each year. Scammers are working every possible angle to steal your money. We catch a lot of it but some is going unreported, which means we are unable to help.”
Kai Fong said more awareness of scams and reporting fraud and scams was vital.
“Speed is of the essence. If someone reports a scam to us within 24 hours we can typically recover their funds, but any longer and the process becomes difficult and we cannot always get everything back.”
Kai Fong said relationship scams were less common than they once were but they could be heartbreaking.
The woman who was scammed by the “soldier” thought she had to send the money to help with airfares and taxes on jewellery.
While the bank had been able to stop her, he said in other cases money would get through.
BNZ recognised relationship scams by watching for irregular transactions and changes in customer behaviour.
Kai Fong said victims of relationship scams were often used as “money mules”, unwittingly receiving stolen funds into their bank accounts and then instructed by their “partners” to send money overseas.
“The victims we typically see have been heavily socially engineered, often over several years, and trust their so-called partners implicitly. Many of these scams go unreported because of a sense of shame and embarrassment that a victims’ families and friends will find out.”
The Spark scam, where people posed as tech support and convinced their victims to give access to their computer was the most prevalent scam by volume seen by BNZ.
It was responsible for the majority of money lost.
“These guys are relentless. They are calling people several times a day and sometimes, simply by wearing their victims down, are managing to get access to people’s computers or passwords and stealing money.”
Invoice scamming was the most lucrative, netting the highest amount of money for the fewest instances of scams.
In these scams, the perpetrators take over a business’s email or invoicing system and redirect its customers’ payments top a different bank account.
“Invoicing scams are successful in getting tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of dollars off New Zealand businesses. Most businesses are quick to report these scams and we do manage to recover most of the funds,” he said.
“The best prevention for invoice scams is to strengthen your email security, verbally confirm any change in a bank account and implement processes for managing payments over a certain amount such as needing two people in a business to review an invoice.”
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