Non-existent product scams, sextortion and phishing.
These are among the top categories of digital harm reported to Netsafe as the online safety charity records its “busiest ever” quarter.
According to its latest quarterly report to June, Netsafe received 7393 reports of digital harm, including 2152 reports of scams or frauds.
Most reports, 35 per cent, were made by people between the ages of 22 and 40.
Geographically, 34 per cent of the digital harm reports came from Auckland, 14 per cent from Canterbury and Wellington, 8 per cent from Waikato and 5 per cent from the Bay of Plenty and Otago.
Fifty-seven per cent of complainants were female.
Chief customer officer Leanne Ross said Netsafe’s annual report for 2022 showed 28,250 reports covering a spectrum of harms including scams, harmful hate speech, privacy breaches and image-based abuse.
“Scams by far make up the largest proportion of complaint types to Netsafe’s helpline,” Ross said.
According to Netsafe’s quarterly report for April to June 2023, last year Netsafe recorded Kiwis lost $35 million to scams.
“Scammers are increasingly sophisticated in their ability to quickly build trust or mimic real brands. We are all a little too trusting and too fast when it comes to transactions or relationships online in this modern age.
“People sometimes also assume that scammers couldn’t possibly hold [personal] information when often it’s easy to get personal details like dates of birth from social media profiles, for example.”
Ross said the simplest and most effective way to avoid falling victim to scams was to slow down.
“Everything we do these days is so fast-paced and easy and scammers rely on our reluctance to make a process more painful or slow than it needs to be.
“Just one extra step – whether it’s calling your bank to check out an email, ringing a friend to double-check a message received or reading reviews before buying from a website – could save you thousands of dollars and emotional turmoil.”
University of Waikato Department of Computer Science senior lecturer and Cyber Security Researchers of Waikato head Vimal Kumar said cyber security threats didn’t just happen in the movies.
Kumar said text-based phishing attempts where attackers send texts with links purportedly coming from banks or a government agency were one example of a common cybersecurity threat affecting the day-to-day lives of New Zealanders.
“There are also phone-based scams trying to trick people into divulging sensitive information that can lead to attackers compromising a victim’s account.”
Rotorua app developer Deliver’s technology director, Tash McGill, said that in general, using technology and the internet appropriately could open up opportunities for communities to be well-informed and innovative.
“Mostly people don’t have to be afraid of technology or the internet but rather the ways people might use it negatively.”
McGill said with a few practical tips it was possible to take care of yourself and others in digital spaces.
“First and foremost, maintain a regular schedule of updating passwords. Using a password manager can help you create complex and safer passwords without having to remember them all.”
Triple Scoop digital agency founder Matt Browning said some habits “everyone should abide by” to keep themselves safe online included having different passwords for different platforms.
“Don’t enter passwords to access attachments or links from people you don’t know,”
Browning, a Rotorua resident, said it always paid to cross-reference emotive or salacious emails that seem to come from someone you know.
“It’s good practice to pick up the phone and call that person to double-check if the email was true,” Browning said.
“We heard of a CEO who was sent an email about their staff’s salaries being published online and clicked the link in the email immediately to prevent any reputational damage, only to find out that the email was sent by a hacker.”
Bay of Plenty software development company Cucumber’s technical director, Mauro Andrea, said it was crucial to be aware of potential risks and to practise responsible use of technology.
“This involves being cautious about online privacy, verifying the credibility of information sources and being mindful of the impact of technology on mental health,” Andrea said.
“Whether we like it or not, technology is an essential part of our modern lives and it’s better to engage positively, learn about it and take advantage of everything that it has to offer as opposed to going against it.”
Andrea said being part of the information technology industry meant he had to be on top of the latest threats and scams.
“The techniques utilised by scammers evolve daily so it’s hard to know them all. However, there’s always a common pattern on these that can be easily identified.”
Andrea said it was his personal practice to limit the information he shared on social media about his family.
“I review the privacy options available and limit the exposure as much as I can by thinking twice before posting something that might be misused by others.”
When accessing emails, receiving phone calls or doing online shopping, Andrea said he always adopted a “zero trust” policy.
“I don’t reply or click on any links that require immediate action, I go to the source of truth to verify information and I opt for using payment methods that don’t require me to enter my credit card details.
“Payment providers, such as Paypal, Apple Pay or Google Pay, should be the preferred option as they have fraud-protection mechanisms in place.”
Andrea’s other tips included keeping devices up-to-date, avoiding unknown WiFi networks, keeping passwords safe and avoiding sharing any kind of personal documentation on social media.
Andrea said there was a “golden rule”.
“Information is the most valuable asset anyone can have and that anything that is uploaded, posted or connected to the internet has the potential to be exploited by third parties.”
Maryana Garcia is a regional reporter writing for the Rotorua Daily Post and the Bay of Plenty Times. She covers local issues, health and crime.