The Commerce Commission is warning people not to fall for a scam that has been circulating in Australia and has now hit New Zealand.
It involves a supposed DNA testing kit, which has been turning up unsolicited in mail boxes.
The DNA testing kit is essentially a swab stick and a reply envelope. People are asked for a $39.99 processing fee and their credit card details.
The kit is from China, although the return address is in the Netherlands. The kit looks professional, but it is a scam. The letter accompanying the kit claims that, if you return a swab of your saliva the company, DNA Technologies will calculate and predict things about you such as your future success, physical and mental health, affluence, significant accomplishment and your "deepest sense of individual fulfilment".
"It's ridiculous," said Commerce Commission Enforcement Manager, Auckland, Graham Gill. "They claim that through DNA testing they can reveal to you 'unprecedented information' on your health, diet, intellect, compatibility, and even how to live longer. DNA testing cannot determine these things.
"We advise anyone who receives this kit through the mail to dispose of it. It is essentially an overpriced cotton bud," said Mr Gill," DNA in this case should mean 'Do Not Answer'."
Because of jurisdictional issues (the scam has originated off-shore) the Commission will not be investigating, but would like householders to be aware of the scam and not respond.
"We see scams in many different guises. This is one of the more novel scams we've seen lately. They pop up frequently and enforcement action is mostly futile. "The best deterrent is for people to be aware of the warning signs of a scam and not fall for it," said Mr Gill.
Stay alert: Scammers on
The recent annual Scam Awareness Week was a joint initiative run by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs as part of an Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce (ACFT) campaign, focusing on raising awareness of scams in the community.
According to research commissioned by the Ministry, New Zealanders greatly underestimate the cost of scams.
"Of 1,000 people surveyed, 90 per cent believed New Zealanders lose under $300 million a year, but the cost is closer to $450m per year," said Minister of Consumer Affairs John Boscawen.
He said added to this is the immense emotional cost to scam victims. The Ministry's Scamwatch website (www.scamwatch.govt.nz) receives around 3,500 reports annually, including from people who have lost everything - their home, their savings, etc - by falling victim to a scam.
The Ministry's research also showed that most New Zealanders believe scams originate in Africa and Asia,but scammers can be based anywhere in the world.
"It's incredibly easy for a scammer to set up a fake email address and then claim they are in London, or to phone and claim they're in Sydney, when they're actually somewhere else entirely," Mr Boscawen said.
"Recent scams the Ministry has issued alerts on include rental property scams, computer cold-calling scams, tax back scams, and charity scams that arose in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake.
"Anyone who comes across these, or other scams, is encouraged to report them to Scamwatch in order to help others avoid falling victim.
"Scammers rely, and prey, on human vulnerabilities and money sent overseas is virtually impossible to recover.
"New Zealanders need to stay on their guard and remember the old message: if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is," Mr Boscawen said.