Elderly Kiwis conned out of hundreds of thousands in recent ‘Spark’ phone scam

Written by Nicole Lawton (Reprinted from Stuff)

Elderly New Zealanders have been hit by a phone scam which has left victims hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.
The scam, carried out by fraudsters claiming to be Spark and/or police representatives, convinces victims to withdraw or transfer tens of thousands of dollars from their bank accounts and send it to domestic and international addresses.

On Monday, police issued a warning over the scam.

Detective Sergeant Kevin Blackman said a “significant number” of people have fallen victim.  He said last month, officers intercepted two separate packages in Auckland containing a total of $25,000.
The two victims, one of whom was an 84-year-old woman, had their money returned by police.
Both victims, however, had posted further packages containing substantial amounts of money, which was yet to be recovered.
Blackman, from the Auckland City Financial Crime Unit, said the cases were just two examples of many victims of the phone scam across New Zealand.
He said there was a clear pattern of how innocent members of the public were approached and convinced to part with their savings.
“The victims in these matters are almost always contacted initially on their landline phones.
“The caller typically claims they are from Spark, claiming there is a security or internet issue with their computer or router.
“At some point in the conversation, the victims are usually told they are the subject of identity theft/fraud through their emails and told they are being transferred to a member of the ‘Police Cyber Crime Unit’, where they are spoken to by a person claiming to be a police officer.
“The victim is then told that police need their assistance to set up a “trap to catch the criminals”.
Blackman said they were then convinced to withdraw large sums of money – often in the area of $10,000 to $15,000 – and given an address to post the money to or bank account to transfer it to.
“The victims are often called repeatedly by the person claiming to be a police officer and talked into sending further large sums of money as part of the ‘trap’.
“We are aware of victims being asked to send money to different addresses in Auckland, as well as overseas locations including Spain, Japan and Australia.
“By the time some people realise they have been scammed, they have lost tens of thousands of dollars, which has likely made its way overseas making it very difficult to be recovered,” said Blackman.
Police have received reports from some banks which indicate that there have been potentially hundreds of victims over the past few months across New Zealand.
“Not every case has been reported to police so we are unable to confirm how much money has been sent to the scammers, but it is easily in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Blackman said many of the victims were vulnerable, older members of our community who were less technologically-minded and therefore more likely to believe claims they’ve fallen victim to computer hacking or identity fraud.
“It’s imperative that you warn your family and friends.
“Have conversations with your parents and grandparents, inform your elderly or vulnerable neighbours and ensure that everyone is aware of this scam.
“Never give your personal details over the phone to a stranger.”
He said if people are on a call they think may be suspicious, they should hang up and not engage with the caller if they try call back.
“A police officer will never ask for your bank details over the phone or ask you to transfer money.
“If you receive a call of this nature, hang up immediately.”
Blackman urged anyone who believed they were a victim of the scam to call him on 09 302 6400.