24 May 2018

Ever had one of those phone calls claiming to be from Spark or Microsoft claiming that you’ve got a virus on your computer?

Internet security experts say these are just some of the phone scams currently targeting New Zealand.

With the Spark/Microsoft ones, the scammer talks the target through installing software on their computer, which allows them to access the victim’s online banking login details. The scammers then empty the bank account.

More recently, phone scammers have been pretending to be from the Police or IRD. They tell victims they owe thousands in tax fines and are going to be sent to jail. Instead of paying the money directly to the tax department, the scammers tell the victims that they need to be paid with iTunes vouchers.

Store employees are aware of this scam, and in one case a scam victim tried to buy thousands of dollars’ worth of vouchers at one store. The shop staff told him it was a scam and refused to sell the vouchers but, sadly, the victim didn’t believe them and bought vouchers elsewhere.

There has also been a flurry of call-back phone scams targeting NZ. This is probably one of the simplest scams: the scammer calls the victim and hangs up. If the victim calls back, their call is routed through an 0900 number which has a very high toll charge (often near $50 a minute).

The percentage of victims who call back is low, but the scammers use automated robo-callers that can call thousands of numbers quickly and easily. They also often use a technique called ‘spoofing’, to disguise where they are actually calling from and make it look like a local call.

Unfortunately, because these scammers are located overseas, there is little chance of them being caught and arrested. So these scam calls will continue.

The scammers also appear to be targeting the Chinese community. A caller speaking Chinese tells recipients they have a package to pick up from the embassy.

What can I do?

All of these scams contact the victim out of the blue. If you get called out of the blue and told that you have a virus on your computer, won a lottery, or somehow owe thousands of dollars in taxes or fines, it is probably a scam.

Don’t engage, just hang up. It might be tempting to insult or yell at the scammer, but it is best if they don’t know if they have called a real person or not.

Don't call back. If you get an unexpected call from a number, you don’t recognize and they don’t leave a message, don’t call back.