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Scammer alert

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

Anton Ognyey reckoned he was pretty savvy about scams having grown up in Ukraine. “There, you have to be alert – you are targeted every day”. But the computer graphics worker, who has lived in NZ for the past nine years, was sucked in by scammers who posed as IRD workers.

His problems began when Ognyev’s wife received a call from someone claiming to be from Inland Revenue. The caller left a message for Anton saying he was due a tax refund of few

thousand dollars and left a local contact phone number and claim number.

Coincidently, Ognyev was expecting a similar-sized refund after filing his tax return through his accountant. “When you call a Wellington number, you don’t expect trouble,” he said. Distracted with work, Ognyev called back and gave his driver’s licence details as an “ID check”. Then the scammer, who had an Indian accent, asked for some bank account details. Ognyev got suspicious and hung up.

It might not seem like much harm done. But Ognyev knows the scammers could use his identity details to apply for a fraudulent loan in his name which could blot his credit record. “I got very worried and you need to make lots of calls. It takes up days because you think ‘what is going on, what else should I do, should I shut my bank account, call police?’ and are you not able to think about other stuff.”

He has replaced his driver’s licence, and his eftpos card as the scammers also had the last four digits of his bankcard. Those digits of a bankcard are stored by online retailers to identify transactions, but can be quoted back to people once in the hands of scammers, to gain victims’ trust. Ognyev said the scammer he spoke to sounded like a well-trained call centre operator.

“The conversation style was very similar to what you have when you call Inland Revenue or any other agency.” The scammer was not pushy and didn’t immediately make suspicious demands, he says. “They were happy to just get as much information as they could.”

Chris Hails from cyber-safety organisation Netsafe said the “Inland Revenue” scam was endemic. “With people who are ‘scam-aware’, savvy and clever, often it is just a moment of weakness; you are tired, hungry or in the middle of cooking dinner and for some reason you fall for the initial hook, and then they work you through the process because they are good at what they do.”

Ognyev was right to fear his driver’s licence ID could be used to perpetuate other frauds, Hails said. Criminals were not just after cash and would use stolen identities for “romance scams” and other frauds. It apparently doesn’t take much for foreign scammers to get “04” or “09” phone numbers from the likes of Microsoft owned Skype or in blocks from Telco’s.

Editors Note: I recently received a call from Vodafone in regard to installing fibre. As I had spoken to them only the day before about fibre I assumed the call was in regard to it. However, the operator knew nothing about my call (hardly a surprise I guess) but when he asked if my home was alarmed, and monitored I did start to wonder. Next question, mother’s maiden name. OK, why would they need this? And it is a well known security question at the bank. I asked the operator for a number to call him back on, and when he was unable to do that I decided I had had enough and ended the call. And yep, the call was while trying to feed hungry, tired kids and I was reasonably distracted. Definitely makes you think twice when you receive unsolicited calls.

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