By FIONA RAE
How about those slimming inner soles eh? Lose 20 pounds in 20 days! Or a cosmic riches bracelet, magnetised for you personally? What about an overseas investment that returns 120 per cent a year? Amazing.
Here's a good one: a courier goes into a business with a package. There's no one there corresponding to the name on the package so, feigning a dead cellphone battery, he asks to phone his office on the business phone. Instead, he dials an 0900 number that pays himself $20. Thanks very much.
"Would you like to understand how you are being plundered?" inquires one Rudolf Van Lin, a snake-oil salesman of the highest order who spent the money on luxury homes, fast cars and guns.
His scam involved seminars which purported to show people how to get rich. Mr Van Lin now resides in a Texas prison, but a couple in New Zealand who were conned now reside in rented accommodation since they lost their savings and their house.
In the cold light of hindsight, the scams are completely daft. But, as the interviewees attest in tonight's Inside New Zealand: The Business of Scams they seemed legitimate at the time. And these are a tiny number of the 70-80 scams being run in New Zealand that the Commerce Commission knows about.
As David Russell from the Consumers' Institute (no consumer programme is complete without him) says, there's "no handle" on how many there are or how much money is lost, largely because people don't like to admit they were fooled.
But, of course, people are fooled, for various reasons, whether it's through greed, such as Citibank's Graham Rutherford who fell for the now infamous Nigerian bank scam, or a desire to further educate your kids, such as Jennifer, whose mum put up the money for some shonky computer software.
The cruellest of all must be the schemes that promise miracle cures, some of which have even been implicated in suicides, according to Keith Manch from the Commerce Commission.
Throughout the programme we see the effect of an investment scam on a property investor, Ray Maultsaid.
He went through a Hastings broker to borrow money offshore, but the money never came. He is forced to sell other properties and the cost is enormous in interest penalties, lost deposits and stress.
Lynda Innes was the honest soul who blew the whistle on Maximus Investments, a pyramid scheme which sucked in thousands of people. The company was ordered to pay back $3.1 million, but so far no money is forthcoming.
Another little battler is Judy Dean, who has turned scam mail into a hobby. She has found many with the same wording and address (and watch out for the fine print, it's often in the envelope).
But there's no real outline in the programme of consumer rights and protections, although Manch does talk about how countries can now share information to catch international scams.
As the narrator says, the best protection is awareness, and the good old golden rule, "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is."
* The Business of Scams, TV3, 8.30 pm
By FIONA RAE