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FMA warns of increase in fake product disclosure statement scams targeting New Zealanders

The Financial Markets Authority (FMA) – Te Mana Tatai Hokohoko – is urging New Zealanders to remain vigilant and protect themselves from investment scams this holiday season. This comes during a period of escalating scam reports to the FMA.

Recently, the FMA has published five warnings about scammers pretending to be from financial institutions here and abroad that send false product disclosure statements (PDS) for term deposits and bonds. The quality of these documents is becoming increasingly sophisticated and offer interest rates that look realistic but are marginally higher than legitimate offers and have induced people to hand over money.

The FMA has issued 12 warnings about PDS scams in 2023, and they are now impersonating legitimate New Zealand companies, including local banks. By comparison, the FMA posted five warnings about this type of false PDS scam in 2022, most of these involved impersonating international or overseas companies.

The FMA believes people are being led to these scams by fraudulent investment comparison websites, an activity featured in previous FMA warnings. People searching online for information on available interest rates provide their personal information, such as their name, phone number and email address. Criminals use that information to contact the person by phone, claiming to work for a New Zealand bank or overseas financial institution, and then emails the person the false PDSs with links to impostor websites.

The proliferation of recovery scams was another trend the FMA saw in 2023, with 36 reported in total. This type of scam involves criminals contacting scam victims claiming they could recover their lost funds. However, these scams were a ploy to access people’s bank accounts to steal more of their money.

2023 scam trends

The FMA has posted 82 warnings about suspected investment scams and impostor websites in 2023 and 22 warnings about unregistered businesses. That compares to 64 scam warnings and 14 unregistered business warnings in 2022. The financial harm caused by PDS scams alone, both actual and near misses, totalled $3.35m in 2023 for those that provided this detail when reporting to the FMA.

The FMA also received 77 complaints relating to the falsifying of documents – 71 of those were scammers pretending to have a FMA licence. Most of the complaints originated throughout Europe.

In October the FMA updated and improved its “Report a Scam” function on its website which resulted in a marked increase in complaints from the public. Of the 331 scams reported to the FMA in 2023, 184 have come since this update. This compares to 211 scams reported to the FMA in the whole of 2022.

FMA Senior Responsible Officer for Scam Prevention and Co-ordination, Peter Taylor said: “While many New Zealanders will be enjoying a well-deserved break this holiday season, scammers won’t be. Whether it’s an investment scam, phishing, impersonation or dating scam, we encourage all New Zealanders to remain extra vigilant this summer holiday.

“We also remind New Zealanders that there are plenty of well-regulated investment products available from legitimate financial providers, where their money is subject to the protections of the Financial Markets Conduct Act and the FMA’s supervision of these products and providers,” said Mr Taylor.

Red flags to watch for and ways to avoid being scammed include:

  • Check the site you’re using is genuine. Make sure the company is based here, has a New Zealand phone number and the website URL matches the company.
  • Check the bank’s website and/or phone app. Banks post warnings about scams claiming to be them on these platforms to warn customers. If you suspect you are being scammed, report it to the bank.
  • Check very carefully before sending any money or personal information to an investment opportunity, even if you think you’re investing with a legitimate or well-known financial institution.
  • Do not put personal information into so-called ‘investment comparison’ websites. These are fronts for criminals, who use the information to contact new targets looking for genuine investments. Legitimate comparison sites provide the information on the web page without requiring any personal information.
  • Do not respond to links, emails or contact details supplied by callers. Check for yourself with the bank or contact the institution through obtaining a creditable source for the contact information.
  • Banks and fund managers are licensed and regulated and will not call you out of the blue, offering a new opportunity that demands you immediately send them money.
  • Pay attention, listen to your bank when it raises questions or concerns about your payment requests or money transfers – they will have seen other customers lose money responding to a similar opportunity.
  • Talk with a trusted adviser, friend, or family member – often all it takes is a fresh set of eyes to raise red flags you may not have considered.

 

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