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Online romance quests prove costly

Romance scams, email hacking and dodgy computer doctors have seen 132 Bay of Plenty residents lodge complaints with an online reporting scheme which nationally tracked financial losses of more than three-quarters of a million dollars in its first year.
Created by internet safety and security organisation NetSafe, the Online Reporting Button (Orb) website, which marks its first anniversary this week, has attracted almost 1700 reports of online incidents since August 2010. The largest individual losses reported related to romance scams that may have taken many months to perpetrate, said Netsafe executive director Martin Cocker. Nationally Kiwis seeking love were scammed out of $340,000.
Netsafe senior cybersafety consultant Chris Hails said the incidents attributed to the Bay of Plenty region only related to ones where people had provided their contact details, rather than opting to make an anonymous complaint. "Looking at the underlying data, we had 132 reports from the Bay of Plenty as a whole over the last 12 months which was just slightly [5 per cent] over the expected amount compared to regional population figures."
The Orb site is run in partnership with police, Customs, the Commerce Commission, Department of Internal Affairs and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. Mr Cocker said more than 60 per cent of cases reported were classic online scams. "Over half the money reported lost was by individuals falling prey to phishing attacks, advanced fee fraud and romance scams."
Over the course of the last year the not-for-profit organisation has been able to use the reporting website as an early warning system as new scams are reported in waves by people all over the country.

"As a result of this intelligence we've been able to produce specific consumer advice, pro-actively warn people of the issues and also work with our law enforcement and Government partners to try and get scammers shut down."
The Orb reports shows patterns in the type of incidents reported. During the past four months of 2010 the main issues were advanced fee frauds targeting car sellers and rental scams affecting landlords and tenants. Later there was a rise in people reporting cold calling computer support companies, which continued into 2011. NetSafe believes the incident reports made to Orb are just tip of the iceberg when it comes to online scams.
"A Statistics New Zealand survey from 2009 put the number of individual victims of internet fraud at 56,000 - that would suggest that current reporting represents only a fraction of overall incidents," Mr Cocker said.
NetSafe is keen for people affected by online scams or incidents to submit their experiences so the information can be used to improve cyber safety and security programmes. "The Government has recently released its cyber security strategy and that includes equipping individuals and small businesses with the skills to protect themselves," Mr Cocker said.
Reports or concerns about online incidents can be made by visiting www.theorb.org.nz
Visit www.netsafe.org.nz and find out how you can keep your computer secure and avoid the latest online challenges.
Top five online incidents reported to Netsafe
- Cold calling computer doctors
- Hacked email accounts
- Phishing (masquerading as a trustworthy entity) attacks on bank account holders
- Shipping fee fraud on car sellers
- Fake IRD and bank fee refunds

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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