If an online romancer says they're stranded in the Congo after being robbed and need cash for an airfare, beware, you could be getting "catphished".

The Bankers Association is warning Kiwis not to "fall hook, line and sinker" for a catphish on Valentine's Day, this Sunday.

A catphish is a scammer who creates a fake online profile to lure someone into a romantic relationship and then convinces them to share personal information or hand over money to help a fictional financial problem.

"What starts out as a budding online romance can quickly turn into devastating heartbreak once you've handed over your personal information or life savings, only to discover your soul mate was actually a stock image and has since vanished into cyberspace - leaving you to wallow in your Sam Smith and Adele playlist," the Bankers Association said.


The catphish often reeled people in with a convincing personal story, such as their sick mother needs an emergency operation, or they're actually quite wealthy but can't access their money right now and need a short-term loan.

"Shortly thereafter victims discover their Romeo or Juliet isn't quite who they thought they were as they are left bewildered with empty pockets and an empty heart."

Such cases occurred all too often, said Antony Buick-Constable, acting chief executive of the association.

"We live in an increasingly online world, which means people become very comfortable building online relationships.

"We all need to be cautious if ever approached for money or personal details online. It is important to remain vigilant in protecting our personal information, bank accounts and ultimately our money."

Tips for avoiding scams

• Don't share your bank account login details, cards, pins or passwords with anyone.

• Only provide personal information such as date of birth, address, driver licence and passport details to trusted people and organisations.

• Don't reply to spam emails, open any of their files, click on their links, or call numbers included in the emails.

• Double-check any email or website address against one you know to be legitimate.

• Don't give or lend money to people you don't know, especially people you've met only online.

• Contact your bank immediately if you think you're a victim of a banking scam or think your bank account has become compromised in any way

Source: NZ Bankers Association