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Commission humbugs chain letters & other hoaxes

’Tis the season for scams: Commission bah humbugs chain letters, horse-betting, lottery schemes and text hoaxes

The Commerce Commission is warning consumers to be wary of offers that seem too good to be true – because they probably are.

Director of Fair Trading Deborah Battell said the Commission had recently issued nine warnings to individuals involved in the ‘David Rhodes’ chain letter scheme, which claims that $218 can be turned into $77,760 in 60 days.

“The letter is a variation of previous similar chain letters such as the Edward L Green scheme. The letter asks recipients to send $10 to the person on the top of a list, to add their own name to number 5 on the list and then to forward the letter with the same instructions to 200 contacts. It estimates the cost of photocopying and postage to be $218, with a total profit of $77,542.”

Under the Fair Trading Act, chain letters that request the sending of money are deemed to be pyramid selling schemes. Anyone who operates or promotes a pyramid selling scheme in New Zealand can be fined up to $200,000, with the court being able to order payment of the equivalent revenue or ‘commercial gain’ earned from the offending.

Ms Battell said the Commission was particularly concerned about this type of scheme because it targets the most vulnerable members of society. “The letter opens with the story of David Rhodes, who claims to have lost his job and had his home and car repossessed. This type of scheme is preying on individuals in similar circumstances, who can’t afford to throw away $200.”

The Commission also has concerns about a horse betting scheme run by an Australian company Antinas Pty Limited.

The company has allegedly been contacting investors in New Zealand by telephone and offering them large returns in connection with a horse betting programme.

“The scheme appears to be akin to a horse betting scheme the Commission assisted its Australian counterpart, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, in taking court action against in 2002. That scheme falsely claimed to be able to predict horse-race place-getters with high accuracy.”

Ms Battell said that this type of scheme was more likely to be a gambling program than an investment program and emphasised the need for people to exercise caution if considering getting involved.

The Commission continues to receive calls from members of the public querying letters they have received from international lotteries claiming they are entitled to winnings.

“The letters come in all shapes and forms, but all require some outlay by the recipient, or require the disclosure of personal details such as a bank account number. In the Commission’s view, these schemes are an advanced type of fraud and should be avoided. People who invest in these schemes risk losing significant amounts of money.”

Ms Battell said the Commission was also aware of a text message hoax currently doing the rounds telling people that if they forward a message to 10 people they will be credited with $10 worth of free texts.

“Both Telecom and Vodafone mobile users have been hit by these hoaxes which have great nuisance value. Neither of these businesses is likely to advertise special offers in this way and mobile phone users should simply delete the messages.”

“Anyone who receives an offer that is too good to be true should think very carefully before responding to it,” Ms Battell said.

The Scamwatch section of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs’ website, provides warnings about current financial scams in circulation.

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