New Zealanders lost $33 million to online scams and fraud last year - triple the amount stolen in 2017.

Figures released today in a report by online safety organisation Netsafe show there were 13,000 instances of online scams and fraud reported last year, up from 8100 cases totalling $10.1m in losses in 2017.

Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker said the staggering number of reports and an extra $22.9m in financial losses show that online scams continue to be a pervasive issue for New Zealand and a new approach to protecting New Zealanders was needed.

"We're now seeing waves of successful scams hitting the country, with the fake sextortion scam being the most recent. We know the lengths that scammers are taking to deceive New Zealanders."


Cocker said some scams involved personalised information that was typically stolen or acquired through security or privacy breaches.

"A simple example of that is the scam that was popular last year, where you were sent an email saying that you had been videoed watching pornography, and the scammers provided one of your passwords.

"That password was stolen and then used to make the scam seem more legitimate, but the video did not exist."

January to March 2018 was the period with the largest reported financial losses totalling $12.5m, with losses settling to around $6-7m in subsequent quarters of 2018.

The average loss increased from $10,771 in 2017 to $21,140 in 2018. The smallest loss reported was $1 and the largest loss was $5m.

Netsafe expects that the reports they received represented a fraction of actual losses, with many people getting lost in a fractured support network, confused about where to report, feeling embarrassed about being tricked, or disillusioned about the point of reporting.

Cocker said they saw losses across all ages, but it was skewed towards older audiences.

He said the majority of scams were based off-shore, and the money went off-shore.

Financial losses were not the only impact that victims were experiencing. Many scam and fraud victims reported feeling frustrated and embarrassed, or having lost confidence in using digital technology to make payments or connect with others.

The most common scam reported to Netsafe in 2018 was the fake tech support scam, where scammers make contact about a fake issue with a computer and offer to fix it.

The newest scam trend in 2018 was the fake sextortion scam.

Invoice scams, investment fraud and romance scams were among the scams that resulted in the biggest losses for Kiwis.

Cocker said existing interventions were having a limited effect and there were pretty clear ways to move forward and improve things.

"This is an issue that isn't going away. More needs to be done or we will continue to see large numbers of New Zealanders suffering financial and psychological harm," he said.

He said there were lots of different agencies working on intervention, with specific interests or types of scams.

"There is a lot of information available on websites and a number of places you can report scams, but none of those places are fully resourced to provide the kind of service we think is now required," he said.

"At the moment, there is no official 'one-stop-shop' that the public can report scams to and rely on for the advice they need. There is no co-ordinated national effort to disrupt scams locally.

"New Zealand needs a national response centre to provide real-time scam trend analysis,
information sharing, nationwide alert systems and dedicated support."

Cocker said resources needed to be centralised and built around a single agency.

"We need to drive all New Zealanders to that agency when they have reports and are looking for support, and also use this agency to connect with all the others.

"Rather than having a many to many network, we need a many to one. So we need to put someone at the centre of the scam equation and ask them to co-ordinate and lead things."

Cocker said Netsafe would be happy to do this, or would fully support it.

"If somebody was appointed we would be right behind them, if we are the right agency to do it, we would also do it," he said.

"It is clear we need that central co-ordination and leadership point, which we lack at the moment.

"Many of the current parts of the scam equation are supported by the Government, so there is no question that they need to be the people to drive the change."

Netsafe's guide to scam spotting:

Netsafe's guide to scam spotting says to be wary of being contacted by phone or email out of the blue, being told there is a problem with your device or internet connections, and being asked for the passwords to your online accounts.

It also advises to be wary of unexpected communications asking you to 'verify' your account or details, winning a competition that you don't remember entering, moving outside of an online trading or booking website or app, and friends or partners you've met online asking for money or talking about money problems.

Three other things to watch out for are unusual payment methods such as gift cards, being asked for remote access to your device, and pressure to make a decision or take action quickly.

Netsafe is New Zealand's independent, non-profit online safety organisation. Netsafe provides online safety education, advice and support for people in New Zealand.