Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Lovelorn Kiwis lose $670,000 in scams

NetSafe said it had 33 reports of the scams over the past year, with 16 people losing a total of $674,000. Photo / Thinkstock
NetSafe said it had 33 reports of the scams over the past year, with 16 people losing a total of $674,000. Photo / Thinkstock

New Zealanders looking for love lost more than $670,000 over the past 12 months to romance and dating scams, according to an internet security group.

NetSafe said it had 33 reports of the scams over the past year, with 16 people losing a total of $674,000.

The reported amount lost was almost double that reported in the previous 12 months.

The biggest loss was a divorcee who sent $250,000 to someone claiming to be a petroleum engineer who had worked in Nigeria. She never met the man but they chatted online for three hours a night, six nights a week.

The other 15 victims lost an average of $28,266 each.

One man lost just under $20,000 after receiving a reply to his online dating profile from someone claiming to be a woman in Malaysia.

NetSafe, which records reports of scams and cyber incidents through the website theorb.org.nz, said the figures were likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

"Many people do not report them, because they're embarrassed about it," said Lee Chisholm, NetSafe's operations manager.

"They have been feeling vulnerable, have wanted a relationship, have been trusting with this person and developed that relationship.

"And it's often very difficult to admit that this person has conned them."

Scams usually followed the same path; contact was made, then after some time - possibly even more than a year - money was requested.

Often scammers asked for small amounts at first, but eventually asked for a larger sum, usually to be sent via Western Union.

"There's usually either a sad story - unexpected medical or funeral expenses - or it will be, look, I'll come to New Zealand, but I don't have cash to buy my air ticket or visa," Ms Chisholm said.

"I love you, we'll get married and live happily ever after, and I want to bring my jewellery with me - and when I get over we'll cash up."

The simple advice was to be wary of online relationships with people based overseas, and to never send money.

A consumer affairs spokesman for the Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation said such scams were some of the coldest and cruellest.

"Dating scammers work to build your trust over time, and lower your defences before asking for money.

"The scammers will keep the connection going until they have drained as much from you as you can give, and then they will disappear."

New Zealanders made more than 1500 reports on all cyber incidents over the past 12 months, with financial losses of $982,690.

Martin Cocker, NetSafe's executive director, said there had been a decline in reports about cold-calling technical support companies and a rise in people having their online accounts hacked.

"There's also been a marked rise in the number of complaints about online trading," Mr Cocker said.

"With more people shopping online and looking overseas for bargains, many people have fallen victim to fake websites that never deliver the goods they've paid for."

NETSAFE ADVICE

* Be wary of online relationships with people based overseas, and never send money to them.
* Scammers often request small amounts to begin with, and ask money to be sent via Western Union.
* Report any suspicions to theorb.org.nz.

Victims

* Divorcee sent $250,000 to someone claiming to be a petroleum engineer who worked in Nigeria.
* A man lost just under $20,000 after receiving a reply to his online dating profile from someone claiming to be a woman in Malaysia.
* A woman sent $5600 via Western Union to Nigeria after forming a one-year online relationship with someone who found her email on Facebook.

- NZ Herald

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