This Fraud Awareness Week, NZ Police is encouraging the public to always “get a second opinion” before handing over money.
Nearly $200 million has been lost to scams by New Zealanders in the last year, figures from MBIE show.
Scammers are targeting everyone across New Zealand, especially those with savings or investments who are looking to earn a little bit more from their money.
Police are also seeing ordinary New Zealanders caught up in fraud investigations as money mules.
A money mule is someone who transfers illegally acquired money on behalf of someone else. They help launder the proceeds derived from online scams and fraud by allowing their personal bank account to receive money before the money mule passes the money on.
Detective Senior Sergeant Craig Bolton, Officer in Charge of the Auckland City District Financial Crime Unit wants the public to understand the repercussions of becoming a mule.
“If you are receiving money into your account from people you have not met and don’t know and are passing the money on – you are a money mule and you could be arrested and prosecuted for Money Laundering,” he said.
“Mules sometimes get a portion of the money for passing the funds onwards. We understand that getting offered what seems like free money just to pass on can be tempting, but this is a serious crime.”
Earlier in the year, Police encountered a scam, known as the ‘term deposit scam’, which involved New Zealand victims and money mules sending money overseas. In this case a victim searches term deposit online. The victim finds a bank they want to go with and provide their contact details on a ‘bank’ website, which is in fact a fake website run by a scammer. The ‘bank’ then calls the victim to open a new term deposit, the victim transfers money into a New Zealand-based account held by a money mule who then sends the funds offshore.
In June, detectives arrested a 60-year-old Auckland man and charged him with two counts of money laundering. Police will allege the man involved is directly linked to two recent cases where two victims lost $950,000 and nearly $1 million respectively in this term deposit-style scam. He has plead not guilty and is due to reappear in the Auckland District Court later this month.
This is just one of multiple arrests made by detectives in Auckland Financial Crime Unit this year. They have arrested and charged several money mules where victims have lost significant amounts of money, including the prevalent term deposit scam. Some prolific offenders have been charged with multiple counts of money laundering.
Detective Senior Sergeant Bolton commended those that helped raise awareness for these malicious scams.
“I am pleased to see that New Zealanders are much wiser to the “term deposit scam”. The Auckland Financial Crime Unit hasn’t seen complaints from this particular scam for some time now,” he said.
“I’d like to thank those victims who came forward in the media to tell their story to save others from being scammed. Speaking up has saved others from losing their life savings, thank you for your courage.
“However, scams and fraud activity generally continue to rise. Sometimes it’s not obvious so be cautious whenever anyone, particularly online, is asking you to hand over money. Police are seeing criminals recruit money mules on social media, online dating, online classifieds, job-seeking sites.
“If you think you are getting scammed or laundering money, stop all contact with the scammer, do not make any more payments, contact your bank and report it to Police.”
Police urge anyone who sees something they think might be attractive or a great deal to do their research, speak to friends and family, check with the Financial Markets Authority, and be vigilant about anything that seems out of the ordinary.
If you believe you are or have been the victim of fraud, contact Police at 105.police.govt.nz or call Police on 105 and report the matter.
Additionally, a number of resources are also available to those who believe they may or could be the victim of this type of offending.
There are several NZ Government websites that have information and advice to help avoid falling victim to common fraudulent activity and scams.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has more information on how you can prevent yourself, family and friends from being scammed.
The Financial Markets Authority provides helpful advice on its website to help avoid falling victim to online investments scams.
CERT NZ provides advice on how to respond to an avoid cyber security incidents.