Kiwis lost $750K to online scams in past year: Netsafe

Scams reported to organisation's website just the tip of the iceberg

New Zealanders lost more than $750,000 over the past year from "online incidents" according to reports to NetSafe's Orb website. "

The internet safety and security organisation is marking the first anniversary of the founding of its site, www.theorb.org.nz, which provides a convenient button for members of the public to report incidents.

The site received almost 1700 reports of online incidents during its first 12 months of operation. A Statistics NZ survey in 2009 put the annual number of incidents at 5600, indicating that Orb is till receiving only a fraction of reports.

At a session at the InternetNZ-organised NetHui earlier this year, NetSafe representatives and other participants reckoned that the actual incidence of attempted scams is considerably under-reported, because some victims are too embarrassed to admit they have fallen for the deception. Many more immediately see through the attempt and simply click away the offending message and forget about it.

NetSafe is encouraging those suffering online scam attempts to "report and help others".

NetHui delegates saw more publicity for scams via non-internet media such as television as a potential way of making those who are not seasoned internet users more "resilient" to online deception.

"More than 60 percent of cases reported to us have been classic online scams," says NetSafe's executive director, Martin Cocker. "Over half the money reported lost was by individuals falling prey to phishing attacks, advanced fee fraud and romance scams."

Over the last year the not-for-profit organisation has been able to use the website as an effective early warning system as new scams are reported in waves by people from all over New Zealand.

"As a result of this intelligence we've able to produce specific consumer advice, proactively warn people of the issues and also work with our law-enforcement and government partners to try and get scammers shut down," Cocker says.

The site is run in partnership with the Police, Customs Service, Commerce Commission, Department of Internal Affairs and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. But NetSafe has seen most activity connected with internet scams and frauds, an area overseen by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and its Scamwatch programme.

During the last four months of 2010, the main issues were advanced fee frauds, deceptions targeting car sellers and rental scams affecting landlords and tenants, NetSafe reports

"Later there was a rise in people reporting cold-calling computer-support companies Such incidents continued into 2011.

"The next most common incidents reported were hacked email accounts being used to send spam and to request emergency funds from friends; phishing attacks on people using online banking and fake Inland Revenue and bank-fee refund offers.

"The largest individual losses reported were romance scams, that may have taken many months to perpetrate," Cocker says.

An infographic showing the types of incident reports to Orb can be viewed here.

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