One of the saddest things that comes my way is watching someone fall under the spell of a fraudster. Usually, it comes to my notice because a distressed friend of the victim contacts me to check whether it really is a fraud. Moral: trust your instincts – without exception, the friends have so far been quite right! But does that stop the victims? Again without exception, no! They blindly believe in the fraudster and do dreadful things like mortgaging their homes to get even more money to send down the fraudster’s black hole. I thought I’d mention it because this month is Fraud Awareness month; a consumer (and business) awareness campaign promoted by the Commerce Commission and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, together with numerous Australian agencies. You may have had a similar experience of being told of a fraud. There are things you can do. You can check out the Ministry of Consumer Affairs’ Scamwatch website (www.scamwatch.org.nz). That site has a list of keywords and organisation names to help consumers identify scams, and may help you convince the victim. Known scams are sorted by the type of scam involved. The classics are there: Pyramid scams (where fees from new recruits into a scheme are paid as dividends to earlier recruits…until the scam collapses under its own weight); Proforma scams (sending invoices for non-existent advertising or goods or services that have never been ordered or supplied); and “Nigerian Letter” scams, where the victims are asked to invest cash up-front based on the promise of a fantastic dividend later on. I had a new version of this the other day: the payment of a huge overdue bill was coming my way! I sent it to the Commerce Commission. The list on the Scamwatch site that really surprised me was for “Scams featuring astrology/ psychic/ clairvoyance services”. Apparently people send money away in exchange for a talisman or other magic device that will bring them guaranteed riches. I couldn’t help but think of Barnum, a musical written about 19th Century American circus owner PT Barnum. It begins: “There is a sucker born every minute! Each time the second hand sweeps to the top, Like dandelions up they pop” (and they do! as I checked the lyrics on a website, up popped – not a dandelion, but a little window saying “Congratulations! You are the 999,999,999th person to visit this site! Click here to see your prize!” Yeah, right. It’s worth checking out the scamwatch site. Amongst other things, there are tips on how to deal with suspicious phone calls and emails. Never give your bank PINs or passwords out over the phone or by email. Banks will never ask for security information on the phone or by email. If you get an email asking for these details, don’t reply and contact your bank. If you have seen or experienced scams or suspect that you have been contacted by scammers then please fill out the Australasian Consumer Fraud Survey on the scamwatch website – this survey will collect information from across Australasia. Your experiences could help to prevent others from being ripped off. You may recall that one of my favourite episodes involved a European scamster sending false invoices to a client (see "Scam busting" article on Reseller News "Opinion” web page). As my client received no further contact from those clowns, we can only assume that the technique set out in that article does actually work. Meanwhile, check your advertising invoices! And do check out that information on the Scamwatch website. This article is intended for general information, and should not be relied on as specific legal advice. You should consult a lawyer for advice relating to your own specific legal problems. Rae Nield can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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