Two Kiwi women have told how "charming" overseas scammers not only took their money but stole their hearts.

Sharing their stories for Fraud Awareness Week, Mary and Lisa - a teacher and midwife who did not wish to have their names published - are part of a growing number of Kiwis falling prey to online scams.

Figures by non-profit online safety group Netsafe showed Kiwis lost $8.7 million to romance scams between January and September this year, compared to $1.4m in 2017.

Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden has estimated as much as $70m could be lost in total to fraud-related scams this year after collecting information from the country's four largest banks - ANZ, BNZ, Westpac and ASB.


She said the cost is 15 per cent higher than last year and likely to be just the tip of the iceberg, with the true amount of money lost to scams possibly never being known.

For Mary and Lisa, the experience left them not just in debt but psychologically traumatised, suffering panic attacks and difficulty sleeping.

After being encouraged to go on dating app Tinder, Mary first met her scammer by swiping right to "the man with the gorgeous smile".

A solo mother of two children, she said the man began writing "really revealing, really open" emails.

"I found him charming," she recently told the Commission for Financial Capability in a video posted to its website for Fraud Awareness Week.

"He said that transparency and honesty were so important."

"He had a very compelling life story, which attracted me. And so I opened up and trusted unconditionally."

Lisa was initially approached through business networking site LinkedIn by a man saying he was taken by her profile and loved her smile.


Both say the scammers quickly moved the conversation onto messaging services WhatsApp, Skype and Google Hangouts.

They claimed to work in professional careers, such as an engineering, that took them around the world.

Mary and Lisa checked online and found evidence that seemed to back up the men's stories, although they now realise this was fake.

Both men also found excuses not to show themselves on camera.

Despite this, Mary and Lisa became emotionally attached and willing to believe the men's promises that they wanted to visit them in New Zealand.

It was while the men were supposedly en-route to the country they made their first requests for money.

Mary said the man talking to her claimed to have been admitted to hospital while travelling to New Zealand and asked for $2000.

"I thought that was doable. I thought he was coming in four days and it was a loan, and he was saying, 'Keep the receipts and I'll repay you as soon as I get there'," she said.

Lisa said the man talking to her said his accounts had been frozen and he was being investigated for tax evasion because of his brother-in-law.

She only paid him instalments of $500 but the sums quickly added up.

She said Kiwis grew up with a tendency to think the best of people and trust them.

But she began to have doubts when the man began spruiking million-dollar investment opportunities and got angry when she wouldn't meet all his requests.

It was after this she told her lawyer about the man. But, by then, she was deeply in debt and had to refinance her home.

Mary started suspecting something was wrong when her man did not fulfil promises to repay his loans.

She also suspected different people were emailing her, pretending to be the same person.

"I confronted them and said 'I think you're all scammers'. I never heard another word after that," she said.

The emotional effects are still ongoing for both.

Mary suffered panic attacks and could barely sleep for three months. Lisa was so traumatised she's had mental health days off work.

Both feel heartbroken after so much time messaging and making plans with the men.

"This kind of fraud is incredibly manipulating and very psychologically damaging," Mary said.

She advises others to never send money to anyone.

"I would say the real indication of a scam is the request for money," she said.

Commission for Financial Capability's fraud education manager Bronwyn Groot said the women's stories showed how manipulative scammers are.

She wanted more victims to talk freely about their experiences.

"We need to shift the blame from the victims to the offenders," Groot said.

"We need to call this crime what it is – fraud. The more we feel able to talk openly about it, the more we can help prevent others from becoming victims."

The commission has released "The Little Black Book of Scams" with advice on how to avoid getting caught out. It's tips include:

• Never send money or give financial details on a dating site.

• Be cautious about who you communicate with online.

• Don't respond to requests or hints for money.

• Never send money to anyone you don't know or haven't met in person.

• Avoid giving out personal details that could be used to impersonate you.

• If you think you are being scammed, stop all contact and avoid sending further payments. Protect your mobile phones.