John Weekes

John Weekes is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Wellington.

Job seekers' IDs stolen

Concerns are mounting about online identity theft, as foreign scammers post fake employment adverts on Trade Me and Seek to gain access to the bank accounts of job applicants.

Helen Norrie. Photo / Michael Craig
Helen Norrie. Photo / Michael Craig

It's fair to say Norrie Biotech isn't New Zealand's biggest biotechnology importer and distributor. Director Helen Norrie works from her home in Bucklands Beach, stepping around the big white dog asleep on the rug to get to her office.

She has a website, a part-time employee (her husband David) and stacks of boxed DNA extractors in a warehouse.

But there is one asset that she values more than all others: her reputation.

So when she discovered this week that someone in the US had painstakingly cloned the Norrie Biotech website and posted fake job adverts in her company's name, she was furious.

The advertisements on the Trade Me and Seek websites were convincing: "A biotech company is seeking to contract services of an independent contract courier to pick up small samples from multiple academic institutions & other organizations within the auckland area," it read. "Samples will be picked up on a daily basis & delivered to our facility."

The successful applicant would be extremely responsible and reliable, speak English fluently, present a professional appearance - and "your resume must be attached".

The fake job offered $18 an hour.

In the two hours the ad was live on Trade Me, seven people sent in their details. More applied through Seek. It is not known how many provided their bank account, tax or credit card numbers - as some such scams request - as the Illinois-registered site was taken down as soon as Norrie complained.

Three applicants contacted Norrie, after getting no response from the US to their application. "They were as flabbergasted as I was," she says. "It's pretty sad for the job applicants, that they would be potentially scammed. One of them had been looking for a job for ages.

"I like to think that we've got quite a good reputation in the marketplace. And I'm worried that I'll be implicated in the scam, because they're using my name. It's quite disturbing that someone would go to such lengths."

Norrie is not alone. Netsafe's Chris Hails says fake jobs ads are the latest trick of the ID thieves, as they try to fool Kiwis into handing over their most personal information, such as bank account numbers.

Trade Me says it detected 91 attempts to post fake job ads in the past year. Jon Duffy, Trade Me's trust and safety manager, said 17 ads had made it on to the site but were removed as soon as they were detected. "The scammers need third parties (mules) to move the money offshore and they use various means to recruit them," he said. "Fake jobs listings are one such mechanism."

Associate Professor Gehan Gunasekara, an Auckland University expert in privacy law, urges job applicants to check the bona fides of companies before sending information. "We know that employers check out potential employees on Facebook. Job-hunters should check out the companies in the same way."

It's not just company websites being cloned. Facebook was hit by a rash of cloned profiles last year, including former Green MP Keith Locke. The cloner duplicated Locke's Facebook profile, photos, status updates and all, then set about inviting Locke's Facebook friends to be the clone's Facebook friends. The end game? It is likely that the cloner wold have asked for money or tried to get personal details. A Herald on Sunday-Key Research poll of 500 people reveals most are relaxed about the amount of private information held by their employer, government agencies and private companies.

But they are worried that too many of their personal details have reached telcos and web companies such as Telecom, Vodafone and Google.

New Zealanders are worried about social media: 65 per cent say too much private information is held by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other such sites.

Wellington privacy lawyer John Edwards takes up the cudgels as Privacy Commissioner tomorrow. He says the poll shows a high proportion of people aged 18 to 34 believe social media sites hold too much information about them.

"It kind of gives the lie to the theory that the youth of today don't care about privacy," he says.

Netsafe advises people to shred or destroy old bank statements, credit card bills and other sensitive documents, and to be wary of revealing personal information to anyone over the phone or internet.

But now, the scammers have diversified from Facebook to Twitter.

Gunasekara says he does his utmost to avoid Twitter, but he is aware of other people's accounts being cloned.

Changes to the Privacy Act will outlaw such fakery, he says, but that will not deter the ID thieves. "Self-protection is key," he says. "I'm never surprised by the new and different techniques of ID theft."

 Lisa Collins'  Twitter was hacked. Photo / Doug Sherring
Lisa Collins' Twitter was hacked. Photo / Doug Sherring

Lisa Collins is chief operating officer of an Auckland-based marketing firm, Swaytech.

In December, her Twitter account was hacked and dozens of private messages were sent to followers. She had no idea until the Herald on Sunday alerted her.

"It's potentially cost me a degree of reputational damage," says the Birkenhead mother-of-three. "If it can happen to me, it can happen to others."

Collins, 35, is concerned professional contacts might see her postings as licentious, and block her on social media. "I'd definitely encourage people to audit all of their social media."

Great Scott! Where's my identity?

A builder has discovered he was wrongly convicted of drink-driving, after a friend allegedly gave his name when pulled over at a police checkpoint.

Scott Waters was upset to find he had a conviction. Photo / Michael Craig
Scott Waters was upset to find he had a conviction. Photo / Michael Craig

Scott Waters, 51, is furious at discovering his record has been tarnished by the conviction for the past five years - and at just how few checks and balances there are to stop a person pinning their crimes on someone else.

Waters had been lifelong friends with another north Auckland businessman, Scott Anthony Macdonald, but that friendship is over.

"We've known each other since I was about 17 or 18, young guys hanging round and having a good time. We're about the same age, we've got the same first name," Waters said.

But he discovered last month, to his surprise, that he had a drink-drive conviction next to his name, dating back to 2008.

"I obviously knew about previous ones I'd had, when I was a young and stupid teenager - but that was 30-odd years ago," Waters said. "I didn't know I'd been driving round, convicted, disqualified with no insurance, for five years."

Macdonald, a 53-year-old company director with a million-dollar house in Helensville, is charged with wilfully attempting to pervert the course of justice by providing false details to police. This week, he denied the charge in the North Shore District Court. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison.

 Scott Macdonald is accused of using his friend's identity. Photo / Michael Craig
Scott Macdonald is accused of using his friend's identity. Photo / Michael Craig

But Macdonald's lawyer, Stuart Blake, said the alleged identity theft highlighted how few checks there were in the police and court systems.

"If it transpires that a motorist has used a false identity, it can be extremely difficult for the police to prove who the driver actually was," Blake said.

Speaking after his court appearance, Macdonald said Waters had been a friend - but not any more.

Macdonald asked that the newspaper not report the case, saying his company was bidding for a big police contract that would be jeopardised by the publicity. "I've got a business that's got 35 staff," he said. "It will stuff everything ... "

Inspector Rod Fraser, operations manager of Waitemata Police, said he could not comment on the case while it was before the courts, but wished to assure the public that rigorous checking processes were in place to verify a person's identity.

Frontline police had iPhones and iPads to allow them to check an individual's photo on the police database. "Officers can find out within a few minutes if a person's photo matches to the name they have provided."

In a similar case reported in the Herald on Sunday two years ago, North Shore man Waldo Van Niekerk ran up speeding and drink-drive convictions under the name of his friend, Theo de Villiers. He even maintained the ruse in court, being convicted under De Villiers' name, and paying off the fines.

- Herald on Sunday

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