Tax bills, inheritance from a long lost relative, a holiday in the Bahamas or maybe your residency status needs updating.

These are just a few of the tactics used by unscrupulous scammers to coerce telephone subscribers to divulge their personal information.

Whanganui woman Julie Kelly knew she was being scammed when she picked up a voice message instructing her to call the Inland Revenue Department.

"I called the Auckland number, knowing full well it was a scam, and spoke to an 'Aaron Thompson' who claimed he worked for IRD."

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The man with a heavily accented voice told Mrs Kelly she was in legal trouble due to tax evasion.

"When he realised that I knew he was a scammer he gave me some very colourful, sexually explicit suggestions."

The call Mrs Kelly received is not unusual and Inland Revenue received 500 notifications of similar calls from all around New Zealand last month.

IRD customer services group manager Eleanor Young says the scammers generally allege the recipient of the call is being investigated for historic fraud or evasion, before threatening them with legal action.

Ms Young said Inland Revenue would never ask for bank account or PIN numbers over the phone in order to process a monetary payment.

A number of Whanganui people have received the Inland Revenue calls and Springvale resident Anita Miller said she received two calls in one day.

"I found it very distressing and I'm retired so haven't paid income tax for a while but the callers sounded quite genuine."

Independent, non-profit organisation NetSafe which focuses on online safety and security has been dealing with hundreds of reports of scam callers and adviser Chris Hails said the IRD scam, a government grants scam and an immigration scam are three main complaints they have dealt with in the past month.

New Zealand phone numbers have been given to many people who have been targeted and Mr Hails said overseas scammers can purchase New Zealand phone numbers for as little as $50.

"These people are very clever and they will use a number for a while and once it is recognised as bogus, they will just buy another one.

"They will look up numbers for New Zealand government employees and purchase similar numbers to make them seem genuine."

NetSafe has recorded cases of people losing money to scammers which add up to $2.5 million for this July alone.

"Last year we recorded $13 million lost to scammers and those are only our stats."
Mr Hails said there is a perception that older people are being deliberately targeted but he believes this may be because they are the ones who tend to have landlines and be available to answer when scammers call.

The calls are difficult to trace because they are made from VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) accounts rather than a public switched telephone network.

Mr Hails said because the scammers are based overseas, they will not have accounts with local internet providers.

Whanganui organisations Age Concern and Community Legal Advice Whanganui (CLAW) have been dealing with complaints from a number of local people experiencing calls from scammers.

A spokeswoman from CLAW advises care when providing name and address details to advertisers.

"You will often be asked if you want to receive information about discounts and bargains when you purchase something," she said.

"Your details will be added to a database and these databases can be sold and used to target people for scams."

Age concern have hosted "scam savvy" seminars run by BNZ security and fraud coordinator Bronwyn Groot who travels the country educating people on topics such as credit card scams, lottery scams and card skimming.

Age Concern manager Tracy Lynn said there will be another seminar held in Whanganui this year and the date and time will be advised when details have been finalised.

In the meantime, the advice given by support agencies is to hang up if you suspect a scam and to believe that if an offer sounds too good to be true, then it is.