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Police, DIA send warning as investigation delivers an alleged text scammer ring

New Zealand authorities have connected on a significant cybercrime operation and charged two for their role in an alleged phishing scam, which targeted Kiwis with millions of fraudulent texts.

Under Operation Cargo, New Zealand Police, working in partnership with the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), have this week executed a search warrant in regards to the complex investigation into the texts.

Detective Senior Sergeant Craig Bolton, of the Auckland City Financial Crime Unit, says Police allege the scam had been circulating amongst New Zealanders’ messages since November 2022, however the scam escalated significantly in in 2023.

“The text messages were impersonating well-known and trusted establishments and asking the public to provide their personal details.

“It’s estimated those involved had scammed some victims out of between $10,000-$100,000 after gaining access and control of their bank accounts.”

As a result of extensive enquiries from both departments, Police yesterday arrested two men in Auckland Central.

“Police executed a search warrant at an address where the two men, who are UK-nationals, were arrested without incident,” Detective Senior Sergeant Bolton says.

“A number of laptops, phones, SIM cards, and electronics Police allege are consistent with running a fraudulent text message scam were also located at the address.”

The two men, aged 18 and 19, will each face 22 charges, which directly relate to the text message scam.

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Both have appeared in the Auckland District Court and will reappear in due course.

Detective Senior Sergeant Bolton says, of note, the 19-year-old male has been remanded in custody.

“We hope these arrests serve as a warning to potential scammers that New Zealand authorities will not tolerate this scam.

“Police and our partner agencies are committed to holding those who choose to engage in this type of offending to account.”

Joe Teo, Manager Digital Messaging and Systems at DIA, says these arrests are the result of a year’s worth of cross-organisation collaboration from DIA, Police, Customs, CERT NZ, New Zealand telecommunications providers and banks to combat the rise in scams in Aotearoa.

“Through a joint effort we have identified and targeted multiple New Zealand and overseas nationals propagating the majority of scam messages in 2023 and exploiting our telecommunications infrastructure,” he says.

“The successful arrest of these two men demonstrates the value in working together in partnership to stop scammers in their tracks, and we congratulate our Police colleagues on their efforts.

“We look forwards to the upcoming release of DIA’s 2023 Digital Messaging Transparency Report in which we provide further context and detail about the mahi that we undertook together in 2023 that contributed to this outcome.”

Detective Senior Sergeant Bolton suspects that there are further people involved in this scam.

“Police cannot rule out further arrests in relation to this investigation as our enquiries continue.”

Police continue to ask the public to be vigilant when it comes to providing your personal information.

“Legitimate businesses will never call or text customers seeking confidential information,” Detective Senior Sergeant Bolton says.

“Always be suspicious when you receive such requests.

"Scammers will often pretend to be from a known, or reputable, agency or business so even if it appears to be someone you regularly deal with, the safer option is to independently log into that company's website to check your account," Detective Senior Sergeant Bolton says.

"While Police and the DIA remain committed to preventing this type of crime, we need the community to be cautious by not clicking links you receive in texts or email.

“The scammers are powerless if you don't play into their hands."

If you believe you are the victim of a scam, you can report it to Police at 105.police.govt.nz or via our 105 phone service.

Information can also be provided anonymously via Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111.

DIA has a text spam reporting service which collects reports on malicious scams and spam. If you receive a suspicious text message, forward the message to 7726 for free. More details about this service can be found on the DIA's website, including videos demonstrating how to report a text scam to 7726.

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