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Fraud Awareness Week kicks off

Ever been told you’re the lucky winner of a competition you never entered? Or had a call from the tax department about a big refund heading your way? The caller just needs to confirm a few personal details, like your credit card number.

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Fraud Awareness Week, which runs until 21 November, is targeting scammers who masquerade as legitimate companies to dupe consumers and small businesses out of their cash.

“The week’s aim is to raise awareness about the underhand practices these scammers use and what you can do to protect yourself,” Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin said.

Ms Chetwin warned consumers about two well-known scams doing the rounds.

Glossy brochures that have scratch-to-win cards from Malaysian travel companies with names such as “Glorious Moment Vacation”, “Humble Glory Travel” and “Spirit Seven Travel” have prompted complaints to Consumer.

The scratch-to-win cards routinely reveal the recipient has won an impressive US$165,000 prize in the company’s lottery.

“When you contact the company to claim your prize, you’re asked to pay a fee to cover government taxes or some other cost. The fee can be several thousands of dollars. But you won’t receive any winnings and your money will be lost,” she said.

Consumer members have also reported calls from computer technicians claiming to be from companies such as Spark or Microsoft. The “technicians” tell consumers certain services will be disconnected unless they clean up their computers. Consumers are asked to download software or provide the technicians with remote access to their PCs.

In reality, the fraudsters are snooping around for bank account details and other personal information.

“Consumers need to be certain they’re dealing with legitimate companies before finalising a transaction or responding to an urgent request,” Ms Chetwin said.

Consumer NZ’s top five tips for protecting yourself against scammers are:

• Never reply to any email asking you to confirm your bank or credit card details. Legitimate organisations will never ask you to do this. The same applies if you’re asked for this information over the phone.

• If you’re buying goods online, check the billing process is secure (characterised by https:// and a padlock symbol in the URL). Ensure the business has a physical address and telephone number.

• Research the firms you’re dealing with. Use the Companies Register to see if the company exists and who’s behind it.

• Don’t be swayed by cold-callers promising bargain deals or instant riches if you sign up on the spot. Legitimate companies will give you time to do your research.

• If you think you’ve been scammed, report it to police. If you’ve handed over your bank details, contact your bank and immediately suspend your account. Fraudulent credit card transactions can sometimes be reversed.

Fraud Awareness Week is run by the Consumer Protection team from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in association with other government agencies.

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