Scammers prey on elderly so shocked and shamed they often don't report their big losses.

Been approached by scammers, maybe even taken in? You're in good company, according to research undertaken this year showing that almost three in every four Kiwis have been targeted.

Even scarier is the fact that the scammers' success rate remains difficult to pin down – because most of us are so ashamed to have been "had", we don't even report it.

That's why Netsafe, the online safety company, say the $18.6 million reported lost in scams in the first two quarters of this year isn't even the tip of the iceberg; they estimate the real figure at $400m-$500m.

What is also not measurable is the stigma and shame attached to being scammed. That's why many organisations are redoubling efforts to ensure customers are educated so they can detect a scam – like the BNZ's new site, Scam Savvy www.getscamsavvy.co.nz which teaches people how to spot and avoid scams.

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The need is great – the Research New Zealand survey in June showed almost 72 percent said they had been targeted by a scam either online or by phone. Only about one-in-five Kiwis (19 percent) said they had never experienced a cyber-security issue.

And here's the real kicker – it's mostly not young people who are falling foul of scammers. It's the elderly, the lonely, the vulnerable and the technology-challenged. The Research New Zealand survey found younger people aged 18 to 34 were more likely to have never experienced a cyber-security issue.

Earlier this year, over 500 scamming incidents had been reported to cyber security watchdog CERT NZ during the first three months of this year alone, the highest number ever.

Those reports showed that older people had been hit hard, with 87 per cent of the money lost coming from people over the age of 55.
The then Age Concern chief executive Kevin Lamb told the Herald in June that older people were often targeted: "The sad reality is it is growing, it is constant and it is continual."

In some cases, loneliness made them vulnerable, as they were "courted by someone overseas" who claimed to need money to travel to New Zealand — thousands of dollars just disappeared.

That's what happened to a New Zealand pensioner tricked out of over $500,000 in a "romance scam" by a man she believed was her true love. He claimed he needed money to oversee the completion of a hospital in Ghana for a friend whose family had been killed in a car crash. The scam was only detected by the woman's broker when she tried to borrow $300,000 more to send overseas.

Romance scams play on the heartstrings and it's human nature to think such a thing could never happen to us. But then you see cases like these:

• A high-flying CEO lost about $1m after being tricked into an overseas shares scam.
• A father invested $800,000 in an inheritance scam in the hope he would eventually inherit $2 million to help his children buy their own homes.
• An Auckland man lost $230,000 after a cold call inquiring about his business interests piqued his curiosity; he became embroiled in a complex scam which fooled him with a sophisticated-looking website that tracked the "investments" he had made over about five months.

So, what to do to avoid being conned? First step is to recognise a scam. BNZ's Scam Savvy website says the following tips are a signal you are being approached by someone with bad intentions:

• You've been contacted out of the blue, by someone you don't know
• The deal is too good to be true
• The scammer wants you to take action quickly
• The scammer wants you to share personal or bank account details
• The website isn't secure and there are no contact details
• An email includes links directing you to confirm information or login to a service
• Poorly written communications with spelling and grammar mistakes
• The scammer has asked you to keep the question or communication to yourself

Scam Savvy also advises on what to do next and even what to do if you have already been scammed. Education is perhaps the most important tool, along with the activities of agencies such as Netsafe, police, the Banking Ombudsman, the Financial Markets Authority, banks and CERT NZ – making up a multi-agency group dedicated to scam and fraud prevention and which track the changing tactics used by scammers, often foreign criminal syndicates.