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Scamming – a new pandemic to deal with?

It wasn’t that long ago that the biggest stress in our inbox was caused by the plethora of spam we had to deal with on a daily basis. Over time, spamming filters improved and we also learned not to sign-up for emails we might not really want to receive, though that didn’t stop us from being constantly bombarded with unwanted emails every time we completed an online enquiry or purchase.

While spam is annoying, it’s not malicious like it’s nasty cousin ‘scam’.

A rose by any other name?

The word ‘scam’ dates back to around 1963 and means trick, ruse, swindle, cheat, or perpetrate a fraud. It either comes from the US carnival slang of uncertain origin, or from possibly 19th century British slang. It’s a derivative of scamp, swindler, cheater or from the Irish word for crooked, cam. The Danes use skam, a doublet of shame and sham.

So, the modern name of the concept has been around for 60 years now, but it has certainly come into its own in recent times, thanks to advances in technology. Victims’ gullibility has probably always existed, but you have to admit that the scumbag scammers have ramped it up to such a high level of sophistication, even really clever people get caught out.

The last 20 or 30 years of technology advances have made life much easier for many of the things we do on a daily basis, but the price we pay is that the bad guys also benefit from our reliance on using technology, and these days it has reached epidemic proportions.

It feels like we’re in the middle of a scam epidemic – it seems that almost every news publication has articles on the latest scam, the dollars we’ve lost in being scammed and the heartbreak we’ve experienced as a result. There are even TV programmes on the subject!

You know it’s bad when banks start spending money on educating potential victims

I recently received an email from my bank providing advice on how to avoid being scammed. Usually, emails from banks advise of impending interest rate increases on mortgages (another form of scamming, albeit a legitimate way of taking our hard-earned money) but this one was actually helpful.

The subject line read: “Together, let’s protect your older whānau against scams”. On checking with my whānau, it turns out that I was the only one in my family to receive the email, despite us all banking with the same bank, so clearly the bank was aiming the message at me, the eldest, but pretending that it wasn’t. I wasn’t offended by their tactics, as there’s no fool like an old fool, and the message contained some good advice, so I passed it on to the family. Not sure if any of them read it though.

The salient points included a range of tips to get people to read-up on how to spot a scam; a new guide created by the bank which identifies scam types, tips on how to avoid being caught out, and what to do if you think you’ve been scammed. All really helpful topics.

It went on to mention that cold calls and texts claiming to be from your bank’s fraud team are skyrocketing. How it works is that the scammers claim there has been suspicious activity on your account which is usually enough to worry you into giving the scammers remote access to your devices, credit card and online banking details, two-factor authentication codes and forms of ID such as your driver’s licence. What happens next of course is history, just like your hard-earned funds, followed by a long and painful process to try to get your stolen money back, though unsurprisingly, this is rarely successful.

It’s not just banking

On a daily basis I receive emails and texts from a range of so-called subscription-based suppliers, such as for cable TV or music apps, as well as credit checking companies (oh the irony); freight companies with attached consignment notes for dodgy international fantasy shipments; purchase orders from customers I’ve never dealt with, and invoices from non-existing suppliers; government agencies for unpaid tolls on roads I’ve never heard of or been on, or telling me that that my driver’s licence has expired; courier companies wanting extra money to deliver parcels (that I’ve never ordered); and I even got an urgent text the other night with a warning from a bank that I’ve never had an account with.

With the rapid development of artificial intelligence, the problem is only going to get worse, and quickly.

So, what to do?

Short of moving into a cave and cutting off all contact with the outside world (as appealing as it might seem some days, and you’ll recall that it didn’t work that well against Covid in 2020), there isn’t much you can do to avoid being a target.

You can (and should) do all the obvious things to protect yourself, like don’t share your password or keep it on a piece of paper in your wallet, don’t give out any financial info, such as account numbers, to anyone, don’t purchase goods or services on websites that aren’t secure, don’t be pressured into doing something, especially if it doesn’t feel right.

Fortunately, there’s quite a lot that can be done to reduce being a victim. Here’s some do’s and don’t’s


  • Treat every unsolicited electronic contact with caution
  • Undertake your own independent checking and verification of any unsolicited contact
  • Ask for help from legitimate authorities if you are in any doubt or think you’ve been compromised
  • Check the bank account number on any electronic invoice you receive and verify with the supplier that it’s correct, especially if you’ve been asked to change or update your records
  • Think before posting anything online (social media) that might be used to identify specific personal info about you, such as last names of family members, dates of birth, favourite teacher, first car or pet
  • If using charging points in public spaces for your phone or other mobile device, check that they haven’t been compromised in any way. Better still, use your own chargers


  • Leave chargers and devices unattended in public places
  • Use weak or obvious passwords that can be guessed
  • Post personal info on social media if it might lead to identifying you or something about you
  • Respond to social media polls or surveys
  • Respond to emails or texts from people or organisations you don’t know, unless you can independently check them out first, and don’t use the phone numbers or links that they might supply to you for verification

Karma anyone?

I see scamming in a similar way to how I see climate change and global warming – if it can’t be stopped and we have to live with it, we need to adapt our behaviour to cope with it. Taking all necessary steps to stay safe is vital, and so sharing information on how to not be caught in the first place seems a good place to start. Despite how victims may feel, there’s no shame in being scammed – it can happen to any of us. However, it’s really important that victims learn from their experience and ensure that it doesn’t happen again, to them and to any others they can share this with. It’s really important to report scams and remain vigilant to the ever changing ‘modus operandi’ that scammers use. Scamming has been with us since the dawn of time, but we’re still tricked by it, and far too often.

The amount of money being stolen from us on a daily basis is horrendously high, and could be put to much better use in our community to fight poverty and alleviate hardship. The harm created often leaves those scammed with miserable futures that they can never recover from, both financially and emotionally. Clearly the perpetrators have no moral compass, no compassion, no conscience and no concern for their fellow planet-dwellers. Hopefully their days are numbered.

To the scammers out there – karma has no deadline; you’ll get yours, sooner or later.

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