“We’re able to help most of our customers who get caught up in scams, but sometimes, as much as we try, some people just refuse to believe it,” says Ashley Kai Fong, Head of Financial Crime at BNZ.
Last year, BNZ’s financial crime team identified that a customer was receiving electronic goods (mobile phones and laptops) paid for with a stolen credit card, on behalf of an individual with whom they had established an online romantic relationship. Once received by the New Zealand based male customer, the items were then sent internationally.
The scammer was then promising that funds from the sale of the goods would enable her to pay for a flight to New Zealand to be with the victim.
Ashley Kai Fong says, “This male customer was in love and, unwittingly, an electronics mule. Under the guise of a serious relationship an overseas scammer was using our customer to receive illegally procured goods and get them to customers around the world.
“We spotted the illegal activity and attempted to convince the victim that what he was involved in was a sophisticated romance scam where he was being used as an intermediary for stolen goods.
But he wasn’t having a bar of it, he was too far down the rabbit hole,” says Mr Kai Fong.
The customer ceased his banking relationship with BNZ and went to ground. Despite repeated inquiries from BNZ it is not known whether the customer continues to deal with the scammer.
The heartbreak of relationship scams
Mr Kai Fong says it is quite common for customers caught up in romance or relationship scams to initially be resistant to finding out they have been scammed, but, “sadly, we do see cases where a customer will refuse assistance even when they have been presented the facts.
“Relationship scams are really upsetting because the victims feel like they are in a real, authentic relationship. Then they find out it’s a scam and their world comes crashing down around them – it’s devastating.
“These scams are often perpetrated over months, sometimes years with the scammer establishing what feels like a very real, deep emotional connection with their victims before beginning the scam itself.
“When we find these scams we often ask the victim to get their family and friends involved to ensure they have a network of support around them as we unwind the fraud. Even if you get money back, the emotional damage can be severe. The victims are left feeling duped and vulnerable and it has very real repercussions for the victim in their other relationships,” says Kai Fong.
Stopping scammers in their tracks
Kai Fong says BNZ has great success spotting scams because of the relationships its bankers have with customers and its processes and systems that can identify irregular payments and transactions.
He says that relationship scams are generally tougher to spot because those involved don’t know they’re being scammed and don’t share information with their friends of family, often because the scammer is asking them not to do so.
“As the song goes, I’d do anything for love, and really that’s what it boils down to. These scams get to a point where the scammer can ask for anything as long as it feels like it is bringing the two individuals closer together,” he says.
Get Scam Savvy
Kai Fong says no matter how good scammer might be, there are always red flags including: pressure to act quickly and keep the relationship secret; requests not share information with friends and family; asking people to provide bank account details or funds to support travel and other expenses; and asking to download software onto their laptops and PCs.
Kai Fong says BNZ is determined to help as many New Zealanders as possible be safer online and its Scam Savvy week, commencing November 2, is about raising awareness of scams and helping people identify what to look out for and how to stay safe on the phone and in the digital world.
“All scams have markers that give you reason to think hey something’s not right here and our Scam Savvy online tool has a range of scenarios that take New Zealanders through the most typical scams and help them to identify what to look out for.
“The first line of defence against scams is the individual. We’re encouraging New Zealanders to head to our Scam Savvy website at www.getscamsavvy.co.nz or visit any one of our branches around the country next week to receive some scam education from our trained people,” says Mr Kai Fong.