Margaret Taylor was at home sewing when she was called by a man purporting to be from her telco provider Slingshot who said she needed to act urgently to stop a person who was using her internet connection to download pornography.

The 78-year-old Palmerston woman was kept on the phone by the scammer for five hours and convinced to let the man operate her computer remotely while he attempted to "stop" the illegal down-loader.

He even promised a technician was on the way to help her fix it.

It wasn't until her flatmate came home and told her it was a scam that she put the phone down and found her bank account had been emptied and the money sent offshore.


"I didn't know what to do. I felt ill..I felt like vomiting and all logic just went out of my brain."

Taylor had to rely on her flatmate to call the police and luckily they were able to get her money back but it was only through the speed of her flatmate's action they were able to do so.

"I was very grateful to her."

Since then Taylor has told her story to rest homes and retirement villages around the Manawatu to try and get the message across about how to avoid scams.

Her advice is simple: "Hang up," she says, "And change your passwords regularly."

NZ's $70m scam bill - and it's rising

New Zealanders are likely to have lost more than $70 million in fraud-related scams this year and the amount is rising.

That is the estimated figure collected from six banks including the four largest - ANZ, BNZ, Westpac and ASB - for the first time ever.

Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden, whose complaints service collected the data, says it is 15 per cent up on last year and is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg of fraud in New Zealand.

"The true scale of the losses may never be known".

Sladden said some industry commentators estimated the true cost may be closer to $500 million a year.

Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden has seen a 73 per cent rise in scam complaints this year. Photo/Doug Sherring.
Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden has seen a 73 per cent rise in scam complaints this year. Photo/Doug Sherring.

"A lot of scams go unreported, either because the amount is quite small, or embarrassingly large, or people feel there is nothing the banks or authorities can do to help them."

Sladden said it had seen a 73 per cent rise in reported scam cases in the year to September 30 prompting it to launch its first ever television advertising campaign in the more than 20 year history of the ombudsman scheme.

"More and more of the cases we're seeing are absolutely devastating for the individuals concerned. Once it was rare to see someone lose $100,000, but not anymore.

"No one can afford to let down their guard for a moment – especially not older customers who are more often victims because of their lack of awareness about the internet, current scams and what to do when they get suspicious emails, calls and offers."

The Banking Ombudsman, Netsafe and Police alongside the consumer protection arm of the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment are urging Kiwis to "Stop and Think: is this for real? as part of Fraud Awareness week which runs until Saturday.

Mark Hollingworth, manager of consumer protection at MBIE, said it wanted people to automatically question unexpected calls and emails.

""The message is simple, if you get any online contact from anyone you don't know, or asked for personal or financial information from anyone, including banks and government departments – be suspicious before doing anything else - stop and think.

Iain Chapman, national manager of the Police financial crime group said the best chance people had of getting their money back was not to lose it in the first place.

"If you have family members who are not technologically savvy, now is the time to talk to them about staying safe online."

he said despite the combine efforts of New Zealand's financial crime protection agencies there were significant challenges in identifying and prosecuting overseas offenders involved in online scams.

"This is further made worse by the fact that international funds transfers can take a matter of minutes."

Warning signs

• A genuine bank or organisation will never contact you to ask for your PIN, password or to move money to another account.
• Never click on a link in an unexpected email or text – you could be giving access to your personal and financial details.
• Always question uninvited approaches in case it is a scam. Instead, contact the company directly using a known email or phone number.
• Don't assume an email or phone call is authentic – just because someone knows your basic details (name and address, or mother's maiden name) it doesn't mean they are genuine.
• Don't be rushed into making a decision or financial transaction on the spot – a genuine bank or trusted organisation would never do this.
• Listen to your instincts – if something feels wrong then it generally is.