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Scepticism scuppers would-be scammer


“Hi mum, it’s me. This is my new number, my phone just broke.

“So you can delete that number and save this one.” Smiley-faced emoji.

Many mothers would recognise that message, and perhaps pause to appreciate their child’s thoughtfulness.

But for one Masterton mum, she had just unwittingly entered a conversation with a scammer.

“Which one of my children is this?”

The reply: your oldest and cutest.

“I thought that was a bit odd. My oldest son is 50, but I replied.”

A seemingly benign back and forth followed. How did the phone break? It was dropped. Hopefully, insurance will cover it.

Then the mother tried to call. Unsurprisingly her “son” did not answer, and next came the kicker.

“Are you busy now? I’ve got another problem.”

Her “son” had two bills that needed urgent paying, however, he could not get into his bank account because it was registered to his old number.

“Can you send your card so I can pay them,” the scammer asked.

“I’m a little nervous about that I need to speak with you first!”

“The messages stopped after that.”

The Masterton woman contacted her eldest son by another means, and he confirmed it was indeed a scam.

“So I called Netsafe, and the police, but there isn’t much they can do.

“I just thought other people should be made aware.”

She, however, was one of the lucky ones.

Netsafe, New Zealand’s digital harm agency, said Kiwis were losing millions of dollars to scammers every year, receiving on average of 11,000 reports annually.

The most reported scams were technical support, event ticket, and cold calling scams.

“The scams where people lose the most money are usually romance, investment, and invoice scams.”

Netsafe chief operating officer Andrea Leask said the reports, however, were just the tip of the iceberg.

“There is quite a lot of shame attached to scams, which means they are significantly under-reported.”

In March, New Zealand police issued a warning about WhatsApp-specific scams advising people to be wary of scammers impersonating family members.

Police said fraudsters had evolved from impersonating authority figures, with victims instead receiving a message from an unknown number, claiming to be a loved one who had just lost their phone.

“The scammer then attempts to obtain the victim’s credit card information.”

A police spokesperson said Wairarapa-specific scam statistics were not available.

“These kinds of scams run constantly and while most people will not respond or buy into them, some people are more vulnerable.”

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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