Money or your life, scam warns

By Angela Gregory

New Zealanders are the next to be targeted in an international email "hitman" scam where they are told to hand over money to avoid being killed by an assassin.

Consumer Affairs yesterday told the Herald it had received five complaints in the past few weeks about the emails, allegedly from a contract killer offering to spare the recipients if they paid thousands of dollars.

Julie Allan, a spokeswoman, said the FBI had first warned Americans about the same scam last January and it had eventually made its way to Australia and New Zealand.

Ms Allan said at least one person in Western Australia had sent in money and the Queensland police were taking a lot of calls from concerned recipients of the emails.

Consumer Affairs Minister Judith Tizard said the scam demonstrated the need for an awareness programme like Fraud Awareness Week, which has just ended.

"This is a particularly vicious email scam with the potential to really worry people and it demonstrates how far scammers will go to get your money," she said.

The email suggests a friend wants the recipient dead and has hired the writer to kill the recipient.

If the recipient pays the writer, then the contract will be postponed or cancelled.

The recipient is warned not to contact the police or to tell anyone.

If they did then the writer would extend the threat to the recipient's family.

Ms Tizard said there were various versions of the hitman scam email, demanding between $1000 to more than $100,000.

Versions of the email have been sent to thousands of email addresses in the United States and SCAMwatch, an information service provided by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs to help people avoid scams.

Ms Tizard said overseas police were urging people to ignore the email, saying it was an empty threat and that their life was not in danger.

"The advice being given in New Zealand is also not to respond. To do so invites further contact with the scammers and the possibility of escalating threats."

Ms Tizard said, however, that anyone who received a threat to their life that might be genuine should report such an email to their local police station.

* To report scams, to help protect others from them and for more tips and advice on how to recognise scams, check out www.scamwatch.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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