Patrice Dougan

Patrice Dougan is a NZME. News Service reporter based in Auckland.

Global money laundering scams target NZ's small businesses

Businesses contacted by a fake overseas customer found the payment amounts didn't add up. File photo / Thinkstock
Businesses contacted by a fake overseas customer found the payment amounts didn't add up. File photo / Thinkstock

Business owners are being warned to watch out for overseas money laundering scams, which are targeting New Zealand's small businesses.

The latest scam to target honest Kiwis has seen businesses contacted by a fake overseas customer asking to purchase products. However, they pay over the stated amount, and then ask for the excess to be sent to an overseas bank account.

Police investigations have shown the original payment was obtained fraudulently through phishing scams, the 'customer' is never heard from again and does not ask for the goods to be sent.

Detective Sergeant Simon Beal from Counties Manukau's Financial Investigation Team says it is a worrying development.

"We've seen more traditional scams through employment and romance ruses, but this time the offenders are targeting Kiwi business owners who are trying to go about their everyday business," he said.

Recent scams uncovered by the team include, car purchasing scams, where an overseas buyer will express interest in purchasing a car and transfer money to the victim, believed to be for shipping. The victim is then asked by the scammer to forward the money for shipping to a person overseas.

Other cases have seen people believe they have been offered an employment opportunity and are being paid wages or a bonus. The 'employer' will request that a large percentage of the amount is wired overseas via Western Union or other money remitter, and the victim will keep a small percentage.

"In all of these money laundering scams, the scammer is based overseas and leads the victim to believe they are interested in doing legitimate business, despite their physical location," said Mr Beal.

"We want to make business owners aware of the techniques used by these scammers to ensure they inform police at the earliest sign of a scam."

East Auckland resident and business owner Richard (last name withheld) notified police quickly after an overseas buyer put in a standard-sized order for his company's products.

"Given his location, I requested that he pay only by bank transfer to ensure the money was safe before I dispatched the products," he said.

"The presumption that a credit card payment was the only way a scammer could get me was wrong. I knew something was up when I received more than $5000 too much and was asked to send the excess money overseas, despite it having arrived from a local account."

Mr Beal said there are often tell-tale signs when a scam is underway, but the scammers are developing new techniques to fool victims.

"Generally international money transfers should be met with caution," he said. "However in the most recent cases, the scammers are using legitimate overseas bank accounts instead of credit transfers to make it appear genuine.

"Unfortunately that isn't the case and the original sourcing of the money in unlawful."

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General red flags for scams:

- Overseas contact via phone or email

- Rapport built up to a point where the victim feels like they can share personal information

- Information gained by the scammer is used to place pressure on victim to send money

- Money to be sent usually via Western Union or other money remitter to an overseas destination

- Usually romance or social networking scams

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Red flags for business scams:

- Contact made by phone or email by an overseas or unknown buyer

- Too much money appears in the business account

- Purchaser then wants money transferred to overseas account (even though it came from an NZ account)

- NZ Herald

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