A woman who believes she unwittingly aided an online scam has spoken of her shock, saying that she nearly committed money laundering.
The recent graduate, who did not want to be named, said she was struggling to get a start in her chosen industry when she spotted an online job to tide her over.
She already had telecommunication and sales experience, so the listing on Facebook to sell tech devices online seemed “perfect”.
But she now realises it was likely a fake account setting a trap.
“I fell for this,” she said.
“If it can happen to me it can happen to anyone.”
She was enlisted by Mobile-fun Gadgets to share advertisements selling new Apple iPhones on Facebook. She would send screenshots to her boss as proof of her work.
She thought the company had a physical location in Dunedin.
“You wouldn’t expect this to happen in a country like New Zealand.”
When she was asked to do the refund work of the company’s accountant, a task that would require her to send money off-shore, she realised something could be seriously wrong.
The scammers told her to claim the money was for family or a friend, she said, rather than correctly list it as a business transcation.
Discussing her concerns with her family sparked a whole series of questions in which she accepted another bad sign was that she did not have a contract and was not properly paid a wage.
“I was really lucky I had the support of my family and friends. They said, ‘It’s not too late, stop right there and report it to the police’.”
Once the game was up, she said the con artists turned on her, trying to discredit her online as a scammer.
“I felt so mentally affected by this, so scared.”
She had also been riddled by guilt over the saga, knowing that people would have fallen victim to the scam she unwittingly helped in.
The woman wanted speak out to warn others to be wary of online scams and to encourage others to protect their privacy, including their images and personal details, online.
The matter is being investigated by the Auckland City Financial Crime Unit.
Detective Senior Sergeant Bridget Doell said police were aware of multiple complaints about a variety of companies selling cell phones and computers via Facebook pages.
“The companies represented on the Facebook pages are legitimate NZ companies, however the Facebook pages are not associated with those companies,” she said.
Instead the fake pages were being set up by scammers based off-shore who then employ a person in New Zealand, “ostensibly marketing” the pages.
They then enlist that person to receive deposits to their account that need to be processed into payments offshore, she said.
These are held out to be refunds for product that cannot be provided.
The funds are actually deposits from people who believe they are buying cell phones and laptops from the company on the fake Facebook page.
“Police want to urge the public to be aware of money laundering, and anyone who knowingly has money put into their account for the purpose of transferring funds off-shore risks being prosecuted,” Doell said.
“Anyone who is asked to partake in such activity is warned to not get involved.
“If any funds are put into your account from an unknown source, you should contact your bank immediately.”
Business owner frustrated by scam
Mobile Fun owner Alex Hao, who has four stores in the South Island, said the confusion between his business and the online phone scammers had been frustrating.
There was no link between Mobile Fun and Mobile-fun Gadgets, he said.
Although the companies had different names and logos, he believed the scammers had been telling customers they owned Mobile Fun’s Dunedin shop.
“That is a scam. We have no connection. We have already called New Zealand Police twice.”
Hao said he had fielded calls on a near weekly basis about the mix-up since the first lockdown and also corrected people who messaged them on Facebook.
He wanted people to remember his stores only sell phone accessories, not phones.
He said he even messaged Mobile-fun Gadgets directly on Facebook but got blocked.