'Winning' ticket costs Mike thousands
A Northland pensioner has lost his life savings to an elaborate scratch-and-win scam and a Malaysian travel firm which promised him winnings of $200,000.
Retired teacher Mike Howard, 79, who lives at Ngawha Springs, near Kaikohe, said losing $7000 to Everlast Holidays had made life difficult. He accepted he was unlikely to get his money back but wanted to stop others suffering the same fate.
The scam arrived in the mail in the form of a slick brochure and set of scratch-and-win tickets. Mr Howard's first instinct was to bin it, but the quality of the brochure and tickets persuaded him to take a closer look. Scratching one of the tickets revealed he had "won" US$170,000 ($200,000).
He called the number provided and was asked to email a copy of the ticket for verification; three weeks and "a bit of to-ing and fro-ing" later he was told his ticket was genuine. That, however, was when things became complicated.
The big cash prizes were supposedly for company clients only so Mr Howard was told to keep his win confidential. He was also told the cash was held not by the travel firm but its sponsors Anthony and Devin Investments in Hong Kong.
To get the money transferred out of Hong Kong he had to pay, via Western Union, a supposedly refundable High Court authorisation fee of $3655. Next he was told the accountant was on his way to the bank to transfer the cash when he was "jumped" by tax officials and ordered to pay $3900 in tax.
Another transfer and many calls later Mr Howard was told he would also have to pay a 1.7 per cent transfer fee. By then he had run out of money and the scammers told him they were withdrawing the prize.
Mr Howard said the scam had put him in a tight financial situation but he had only himself and his cat to support.
"I was doubtful right from the start but thought I'd follow it through. I thought, if I'm spending money it's only what I can afford - and if it's genuine what problem is there going to be with $200,000?"
He urged others to be "very suspicious" about Everlast Holidays and other companies offering prizes. He also urged people to be wary when asked to transfer money by Western Union, scammers' favoured payment method.
He had tried to phone the Hong Kong bank supposedly involved only to find its closest branch was in Beijing. Hong Kong's less-than-helpful tax department made the scammers' job easier, he said.
Mr Howard decided to go public after the scammers made a veiled threat urging him to keep quiet.
Consumer Affairs spokesman Britton Broun said the department had received a number of reports about the scam and it appeared to specifically target the elderly.
With regards to getting his money back, he is unlikely to see it again, especially if he paid cash or sent funds via Western Union.
If you are told you have won a competition you didn't enter it is almost certainly a scam. Scams are illegal but because most postal and email scams originate overseas, New Zealand laws offer little protection or redress.
According to the Department of Internal Affairs, the Everlast Holidays scam is one of many doing the rounds. Other scratch-and-win scams go by the names of Abadi Holidays, Woods Tourism Malaysia, Mas Odyssey and Ravine Travel.
The Department of Consumer Affairs website says scams succeed because they look like the real thing and "push your buttons".
Go to www.consumeraffairs.govt.nz/scams to learn more about scams, what to do if you have been scammed and how to protect yourself. This 'scamwatch' site also has victims' stories. Internal Affairs has plenty of examples of scams at www.dia.govt.nz (look for the 'Avoid scams' section).