“Mark” was still being called by overseas crooks the day he died.
The New Zealand farmer lost his farm after falling for a romance scam, sending money to a woman overseas who turned out to be just the front woman for a criminal gang.
Mark’s story is included in Fraud Hurts, a film by the Commission for Financial Capability that’s being screened on Thursday as part of the New Zealand Fraud Film Festival.
It was made to show the pain and self-loathing that people sucked in by overseas crooks feel, and to send a plea to New Zealand to stop blaming the victims.
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“About two years ago I was on the internet looking for love,” Mark, whose real identity is not revealed, told the CFFC before his death. “I got in touch with a girl named Connie, and she showed interest in me, and that kind of thing.”
“She told me her parents had been killed in a car crash.”
She was patient, drawing him in slowly.
They were in contact for three months before she told him she had inherited some gold, and asked for some money to help her get it from the American government.
“She said I need a lawyer, and some money to get it all into my name. So I gave her $30,000,” Mark said.
But her demands got bigger and bigger, and Mark gave, until he had no more to give.
“I lost my farm,” he said.
“I was alone at the start, and I’m even more alone now.”
Mark was 54 when he died, said Bronwyn Groot, CFFC Fraud Education Manager.
She believed only a minority of New Zealanders who fall victim to overseas scammers report their losses to the authorities, in part because of the shame they feel, and the fear they will be judged.
“We need to stop blaming the victims,” she said. “Stop blaming the victims and start blaming the offenders.”
“This crime is only going to get bigger, and bigger.”
Netsafe said that in 2018, victims of scams who contacted it had lost a combined $33 million, but the total across the whole country was certain to be higher.
Research in 2018 indicated more than 70 per cent of adults had been the target of a phone or email scam, and a BNZ survey earlier this year revealed 15 per cent of people who lost money in scams never tell anyone.
Groot believed New Zealand banks and politicians should do more to protect their customers, including looking to efforts in Britain to staunch the flow of money out of the country from victims of overseas scammers.
British lawmakers have become so sickened by losses suffered by Britons at the hands of overseas scammers, they are considering a 24 hour “speedbump” delay on all first-time payments from one account to another.
It would give banks more time to identify more payments that are not to legitimate recipients, and contact their customers to query the transactions.
The pain of scam victims is little understood, Groot believed.
“I was having stressful nights. A real hate for myself,” said “Greg”, who stars in the film alongside Mark, and again whose real identity is not revealed.
He said he had: “a disgusting view of myself. How could I be the fool falling for this?”
He believed his bank should have stepped in an saved him before he fell for overseas crooks selling fake investments.
“If they had looked at my history. I had never transferred money offshore from New Zealand, so why was I doing it?”
“I’m the fool here, or the fall guy, but I felt like maybe I’ve been banking with these two banks all my life, that I may have, and should have been given some advice. It may have helped me avoid this scam.”
The aftermath of losing his life savings had taken its toll on him.
“I don’t feel comfortable within my own skin, and that’s been a horrible thing to have, to carry,” he said.
“Jane”, the third victim who appeared in Fraud Hurts, was double-scammed. She lost money in an investment scam, sending money overseas, but then was contacted by a money recovery scammer who pretended to be able to get her money back.
Like Mark, the bank did not spot the transaction, or if it did, did not contact her.
“I was one of those people you hear about,” she said. She lost trust in herself, and in other people.
“That went to feelings of hating myself. Feelings of being totally worthless. Not being able to trust anyone. Not being able to trust myself.”
“The impacts are huge.”
?* Fraud Hurts will be shown at a special free screening on Thursday at 10am at Auckland’s Waterfront Theatre in a session on how the public can identify scams hosted by reporters from TV’s Fair Go. Details can be found here.