As New Zealand heads into Sorted Money Week, Financial Services Complaints Limited is urging Kiwis not to fall for romance scams and is commending the financial services industry for its efforts to protect consumers.
The independent disputes resolution service is raising the red flag after receiving a number of complaints that centre around sophisticated romance type scams.
"The irony in these cases is that the complainants' issue is typically with the financial service provider who has refused a transaction, suspecting a scam, not with the scammer," says Susan Taylor, FSCL Chief Executive Officer.
"Our complainants have remained under the illusion that they are in a genuine relationship."
In one recent case, the complainant had been in an online relationship with a Nigerian woman for around eight years. During that time he had sent her money to fund her nursing studies and had recently purchased tickets for her to move to New Zealand.
When the complainant tried to send additional funds as a 'pre travel allowance', he was dismayed that the money remitter declined the transaction, suspecting a scam. He complained to FSCL, acknowledging that Nigeria was a country known for scams, but adamant that his relationship was real.
The money remitter responded that it would reconsider its decision if the complainant could provide supporting information such as confirmation from Nigeria's emigration department or photographs of the pair together.
Ms Taylor said that FSCL had explained that although the money remitter provided a service, it was not obliged to transfer money for him.
"The information requested by the money remitter was not unreasonable, but when the complainant was unable to source any of the information requested, he realised his complaint had no basis. However, he remained convinced of the authenticity of his relationship."
Ms Taylor said it seemed likely that the woman he had been corresponding with was a fraudster who had skilfully groomed him over a long period of time.
In another case, the complainant had been sending money to a woman facing extreme hardship in a civil war ravaged country. He was outraged when the international money exchange company he had been using for several years abruptly declined the transaction.
"While we found some issues with the financial service provider's customer service and handling of the complaint, ultimately the company was entitled to decline a risky transaction, and in doing so was serving the customer's best interests."
Ms Taylor said people should refer to NetSafe's online resources for identifying and avoiding romance scams, including never sending money to anyone you haven't met in person. www.netsafe.org.nz/romance-scams/