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If there’s one way that scammers are predictable, it’s that they will take advantage of people whenever they can. They see this as an opportunity.

“Unfortunately, fraudsters will never let a good crisis go to waste,” says New Zealand fraud expert Bronwyn Groot. “Where there is heightened public awareness about an issue, the scams will follow.

“We need to stay vigilant to avoid having money or our identities stolen.”

Look out for COVID-19 scams

Fraudsters are using COVID-19 as a way to grab our attention. Here are some examples:

  • Fake websites selling medical-grade masks
  • Cold calls with offers of investments in industries experiencing heightened demand due to the virus, such as pharmaceuticals, or in ‘safe havens’ such as gold
  • Phishing emails or texts pretending to offer information updates or access to testing centres, requesting recipients to enter personal information or click on links. The links install malicious software, enabling scammers to find passwords, access email accounts and download personal information such as bank account details.
  • Phone calls from scammers pretending to be health officials asking for your personal information, or saying they have test results but need your credit card details to process a payment

Telltale signs you’re about to be ripped off

Remember that anyone can fall victim to a scam – especially when they are going through something stressful. And COVID-19 has made sure that we’re all under stress!

“Fraud networks are sophisticated, and their techniques are more likely to succeed when people are distracted or stressed,” Groot says.

Netsafe, the non-profit online safety organisation, points out some telltale signs that you’re being targeted. Watch out whenever you’re:

  • Contacted out of the blue
  • Asked for your password
  • Asked to verify your account or details 
  • Asked for remote access to your device
  • Being pressured to make a decision quickly
  • Asked to pay in an unusual way

These are all red flags. Remember, legitimate companies or government agencies will never ask for your passwords. Scammers like to use payments that can’t be traced. And unfortunately, organisations can seem real when they’re not. Here’s where to learn more.

How to protect yourself

Here are our top tips to stay safe:

  • Stop and think: Is this for real?
  • Only click on links if you’re 100% certain they are legitimate.
  • Remember that health officials will not ask for passwords or expect payment for tests. If you receive a request like this, delete it or hang up.
  • If you’re suspicious of any caller, hang up and call the official number of the organisation they say they represent to check if the call was genuine.
  • Cold calls with investment offers are illegal in New Zealand. Just hang up!

For more COVID-19 scam information and where to report them, see the official government page here.

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Our fraud education expert Bronwyn Groot talks to the New Zealand Herald's Frances Cook about COVID-19 scams.

Comment (1)

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11:53am | 1 May 2020

Useful and relevant advice. Thank you.