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Scammers steal $80,000 from elderly Mahurangi women

Posted at 9:19am Tuesday 01 Oct, 2019

Police are warning residents to be on the alert after two elderly Mahurangi women had tens of thousands of dollars siphoned out of their bank accounts after falling victim to phone scams.

One woman in her seventies from Matakana was scammed out of $45,000 and another in her eighties in Snells Beach out of about $40,000.

Both women were victims of the “Spark” scam, where they received a phone call from a man claiming to be from the Spark telecommunications company.   

The women asked not to be identified, but the Snells Beach woman agreed to share her story as a warning to others.

The woman said she had received a phone call on a Sunday afternoon. The male caller said Spark had detected child pornography on her computer.

“I'm with Vodafone and don't have any connection with Spark. But that did not occur to me at the time. I willingly turned my computer on to see if there was, in fact, any child pornography,” she said.

The woman did not see any porn but did discover her screen was filled with “errors and faults and all sorts of things”. The man said this was what he had to clear.

During the hour-long conversation, the man succeeded in downloading two programmes to the woman's computer – AnyDesk and TeamViewer – which allowed him to take control of her machine.   

The woman watched as the man appeared to remove the errors from her computer. Then he asked the woman to check her bank accounts. She believes the man was able to secure the passwords to her accounts when she typed them in to perform the check.

The woman suspected she had been scammed when she tried to pay her Visa bill later that night at around 8pm. She discovered her computer would not boot up and she could not access her accounts online.

The woman spent a sleepless night until she got to her bank in Warkworth early the following morning.

At the bank, she discovered $24,000 had been taken directly from her bank accounts and around $16,000 racked up in charges to her Visa credit card.   

The bank referred the woman to their security team, who began their own investigation, and advised the woman to contact the Police.   

She said she could not bring herself to do this until two weeks afterwards, and she still had not been able to tell her children.

“I didn't want anybody to know what a damn fool I'd been,” she said.

After the thefts, the woman was left with just $4000 in her account and had to break a term deposit to pay off her Visa bill – the biggest she had ever incurred.

BNZ head of financial crime Ashley Kai Fong says the Spark scam is everywhere and appears to originate from overseas.

“Kiwis are receiving these calls across the country, seven days a week, and we see it several times a day at the BNZ,” he said.

Mr Fong says scammers don't appear to have a particular target, calling numbers indiscriminately.

However, ASB spokesperson Marise Hurley says the scams seem to be targeting those with landlines.

“This generally does impact the older generation, as they have a greater representation of those who have landline numbers,” she says.

The New Zealand Telecommunications Forum (TCF) warns that consumers should be suspicious of any unsolicited calls from telecommunications companies. 

TCF chief executive Geoff Thorns says telecommunications providers will never ring unexpectedly and tell you there is a virus or security issue with your computer.

Over the past few months, Police have received more than a 100 reports from people across New Zealand who have lost money totalling more than $2.5 million.

Last week, Police announced they had arrested 13 people for money laundering in connection with the Spark scam and are actively searching for more people involved.

Detective Sergeant Kevin Blackman, of the Auckland City Fraud Unit, said the arrests took place in Auckland, Hamilton and Napier.

Police are seeking the public's assistance to help locate three men who have warrants for their arrest for money laundering in relation to the investigation.


Wanted by Police

         

They are Manish Khan, 24, Tushar Prabhakar, 21, and Hitesh Sharma, 22.


The three men are believed to be in the Auckland area and are known to frequent the Auckland Airport area and Auckland Central, including SkyCity.

Anyone with details about their whereabouts can provide information to Detective David Gillum by phoning 09 213 4300 or by emailing DGCY32@police.govt.nz.

Police advise that if you receive a scam call to hang up immediately. If anyone believes they have been a victim of a scam they should contact their local Police station urgently.

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