sign up log in
Want to go ad-free? Find out how, here.

'A nerve centre to disrupt scams': what NZ can learn from Singapore as fraud and deception crimes rise 77% annually

Banking / news
'A nerve centre to disrupt scams': what NZ can learn from Singapore as fraud and deception crimes rise 77% annually

The Banking Ombudsman has written to New Zealand’s banks urging them to fast-track resolution of fraud complaints, and is suggesting NZ adopt Singapore’s approach to financial scams and set up a dedicated anti-scam unit.

At the launch of a bank-backed new television show which investigates the psychology of scams, chair of the Banking Ombudsman scheme, Miriam Dean KC, said financial scams were rising exponentially. 

She said banks, regulators, telecommunications firms and government ministries such as Waka Kotahi - which has been impersonated by scammers - must work together to combat the sophisticated frauds being perpetrated against New Zealanders, with devastating consequences.

Fraud and deception crimes soar

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Justice released the Crime and Victim Survey based on data collected between November 2021 and November 2022.

Fraud and deception crimes increased from 288,000 in the previous period to 510,000 for the year ended November 2022, a 77% increase. 

About 10% of adults in New Zealand were victims of fraud and deception crimes, the ministry survey found, or 423,000 adults.

The survey showed the increase in fraud and deception victimisations drove an overall rise in incidents, with fraud and deception the most common type of offence, followed by burglaries (288,000 offences) and physical offences (253,000).

However, the number of fraud and deception crimes reported to police in 2022 fell to a three-year low, with more than 90% not reported.

Government cybersecurity information service Computer Emergency Response Team (Cert NZ) recently reported that financial losses as a result of cyber crimes rose a 66% in the first quarter of 2023.

Kiwis losing about $200m a year

The Banking Ombudsman said in 2022 bank data estimated New Zealanders were losing about $200 million each year to fraudsters.

Dean said banks estimated nearly 25,000 New Zealanders had been scammed out of money in the past 12 months, however, loss estimates were conservative, and “scams are a real scourge”.

Dean said she and Sladden had written to all bank chief executives very recently “to ask for their commitment to keep working with us to prevent scams, and when they do happen to help fast-track resolution of scan related complaints”.

“They have given us that undertaking.”

Dean said banks were bearing the brunt of the fraud problem, but there were many who needed to “step up and share the load of combating scams”. 

The King’s Counsel said she was thinking of telecommunications firms, social media sites, credit card companies, Inland Revenue, Waka Kotahi, NZ Post and trading sites, which were often impersonated by scammers.

A Waka Kotahi spokesperson said it had been very proactive in providing advice for customers and urging people to be vigilant and cautious in the face of ongoing and persistent online scams.

The spokesperson said it highlighted the issue regularly through media statements, with social media posts on several platforms, and with a banner alert on the homepage of its website which linked to a separate dedicated webpage listing current scams, and provided advice for customers.

“This page is regularly updated as new scams and variations on existing scams emerge.  We’re also working with Police, Cert NZ and Netsafe to combat the scammers, but they are relentless and persistent - no sooner is one phony website taken down or blocked than another one appears.”

Telco Spark said it actively worked to limit the number of scam calls its customers receive by monitoring unusual calling activity and blocking offending numbers. It said it worked closely with the broader New Zealand telecommunications industry via the NZ Telecommunications Forum (TCF) to share information so that numbers can then be blocked across all networks.

“We also block access to URLs featured in scam texts to prevent customers inadvertently clicking on the links. Where possible, our security and fraud teams work with law enforcement to identify and shut down scamming operations, but this is challenging when they are located offshore.”

It said because it cannot stop scamming from occurring, it was focused on empowering customers to be vigilant when it comes to scams to help prevent them falling victim. Spark said it regularly educated and alerted customers on fraudulent activity, including through direct customer communications, regular updates on its scam alert website, sharing alerts about widespread scams on social media channels, partnering with Netsafe on its educational scam call brochure, and ensuing customer service teams were equipped to assist with scam call inquiries. 

“We also sell a landline product called Call Screen, which contains technology that can effectively help users protect themselves from scam calls. Call Screen is the only home phone available for purchase in New Zealand that contains technology that can effectively help users protect themselves from scam calls.”

How they do it in Singapore

A number of regulators are involved in fraud detection, resolution and consumer protection including the New Zealand Police, Financial Markets Authority, Cert NZ, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Consumer Protection unit and the Commerce Commission.

Concerns have been raised that New Zealand is falling behind in consumer protection from scammers, with the United Kingdom introducing name and account number checking in 2020 and Australia reviewing and beefing up its payments code for transactions to protect consumers in 2022. More recently, the UK’s payments regulator said banks needed to pay back fraud victims within five days. Both ASB and BNZ have said they would support introducing name and number cross-checking.

Dean said New Zealand could look to copy the approach taken in Singapore and set up a centralised unit which would boast anti-fraud expertise from across the organisations involved in fraud prevention and detection. 

In 2019, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) started working on a “nerve centre for investigating scam related cases”, bringing together different parts of the police service and partnering with local and foreign banks, card companies and fintech firms to “swiftly freeze accounts, recover funds and reduce losses suffered by victims”.

The Anti-Scam Command was launched in Singapore in March 2022.

ANZ supportive

ANZ NZ chief executive Antonia Watson said the country’s largest bank was supportive of the Singapore approach.

The bank said in an emailed statement that "stronger more co-ordinated multi-stakeholder approach to scams is something we see benefit in for Kiwis and their businesses and there are good models overseas where this appears to be having clear benefit, such as the Singapore model".

It said it was starting to have early conversations with relevant parties to hopefully initiate something like that in NZ.

The Singapore Police Force worked with the Monetary Authority of Singapore, its central bank and financial regulatory authority, to locate staff from the country’s six major banks at the anti-scam centre.

“This has enhanced the SPF capabilities to freeze accounts and trace the flow of funds within the same day (compared to 14-60 days in 2019),” ANZ said.

The bank said while only a very small percentage of its transactions were fraudulent (less than 1% based on ANZ's analysis), it was very focused on restricting customer harm. 

Dean said to date the anti-scam centre had frozen more than 40,000 bank accounts and recovered more than $300 million Singaporean dollars on behalf of victims.

“Establishing an anti scam centre along these lines would have much to recommend it in my view, especially as a flood of scams grows day by day ... and scammers will turn to artificial intelligence to further their devious ends.”

Commerce Minister Duncan Webb said in a video message tackling scams “would take all of us, and the government certainly has a role to play by ensuring the law works for New Zealanders and holding scammers accountable for the harm that they have caused".

"We will keep considering whether the settings are appropriate to achieve this.”

Here comes Nigel Latta

The push for a more aggressive approach to combating financial frauds comes as the Banking Ombudsman’s new four-part TV series, You’ve been scammed by Nigel Latta, will debut on Monday, July 3 at 8pm on TVNZ.

Backed with financing from NZ banks, the series aims to reveal how scammers target us, the methods they use to earn our confidence and take our money.

Sladden said the series had been developed to highlight the psychology behind scams, to share tips for keeping customers’ money safe, and to remove the embarrassment felt by some when scammed.

It is hoped that the wide reach of TV will help spread the message about rising scams and how to protect yourself from being defrauded widely, and capture an audience not seeing anti-scam campaigns on social media and online.

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.


We don't take crime seriously.  Each incident, from trashing somebody's car thru to scams should be tracked through and sorted.

But our civil servants are on cruise mode.


Well, we will need more checking, given the high levels of corruption in many of the countries where most of our immigrants are coming from, and where corruption is very common if not the norm.


Whilst I agree with the need for this, it will require yet another highly staffed entity to be set up and I'm not convinced that it would be any more efficient than our other largely underperforming crime units.

Whilst fraud and scams are definitely on the rise, there also seems to be a rise in companies now using ostensibly legitimate practices to unnecessarily extract returns from unwary customers.  Whilst these tricks are not illegal, they are often pushed with quite clever degrees of persistence. 

An example I had the other day was at a rental car company in Auckland. On picking up the car the rental company offered me their rental car insurance excess buyout at a cost of $25 per day.  I already had rental car excess cover under another insurance policy so instead I was prepared to have a $3000 bond held against my credit card.  However, when the rental company tried to load the bond on my card it would not be accepted despite me providing an authorisation code that the bank sends to my mobile as a transaction security check.  At this point the rental car desk guy said that it was a common problem with many banks reluctant to accept large transaction amounts placed through the company's payment platform (Stripe) and that most customers at that point just opted for the rental company's $25 per day excess buyout instead.  Rather than do this I got on to my bank to question exactly why the credit card transaction would not go through and they said that the authorisation code (entered in this case by the rental car guy) had been entered incorrectly.  A cynical view of this might be that the rental car company intentionally fails the bond payment process in order to get you to buy their expensive excess buyout.  On reading reviews of this particular car rental company, a lot of the reviews said the same thing about being pushed into purchasing the company's own excess buyout fees. Whilst I know that companies have to make a living, some of their practices are pretty dubious these days.


Which rental car company?



Won't name them for possible legal liability reasons but explaining the problem should be enough for others to avoid the same hassle. Fortunately, I had the time to sort it out on site but a simple rental car collection took me half an hour longer than it should have.


NZ has completely dropped the ball with online fraud.

Scammers reset customer online banking credentials by intercepting 2FA SMS verification code emails and then drain accounts. Banks (and CERT) blame the customer - despite the banks knowing full well that SMS 2FA is a high risk attack vector & will remain so until telcos get serious about making it difficult to spoof phone numbers and intercept SMS.   Heck, in one case involving Heartland Bank (iirc), the scammer had to phone the bank to gain access and somehow it was the customer's fault that the bank granted the scammer full access to drain the accounts.  So much for security questions aye?   

NZ banks not proactively freezing accounts and routing payments to suspense accounts whilst suspicious payments investigated.

Time and time again scammer payments are routed to dodgy foreign banks - some of which do not provide publicly available contact details.  If our banks were fit for purpose and meeting their CGA obligations, they would undertake payment analysis and prevent or restrict payments to payee banks and organisations shown to be receiving a significant amount of payments from fraud.   

Worse, NZ banks have now successfully abolished cheque payments - the last bastion of consumer safety when making payments.  This when many bank fraud specialists refuse to use online banking because it is designed to pass the risk of payment errors from the bank to the consumer.  

Telcos, banks, and govt agencies go out of their way to make it hard to report phone and SMS scams.

Our telcos allow anyone with a dodgy VOIP to connect to their networks. How many VOIP calls from India are legitimate? Me thinks telcos value the couple of cents they make for network interconnection fees over the thousands of dollars that profit costs their customers.  

Why mount a coordinated response when you can "educate" people and blame them for not spotting sophisticated scams?

NZ could also (but based on Duncan Webb's comments, won't be anytime soon) pass laws to compel domain registrars' and website hosts to provide information and block traffic & also require local ISPs to block traffic to and from known fraudulent domains and web hosts, with the level of restriction increasing based on the domain or web hosts' compliance or lack thereof with requests to take action and general behaviour - under threat of the domain registrar or web hosting platform being completely blocked.  Ditto for overseas telcos. Want to interconnect with Nz's telephone network? Then you have to demonstrate you are not a conduit for fraudsters.   Good bye Go Daddy, farewell numerous web hosts and domain registrars  based in China, Russia, India, Phillipines, the Netherlands, etc.  




If the banks security questions mostly amount to name, date of birth, address and last transaction then those are easy discoverable details already known publicly by many others in the community of the customer and are not secure details in any way. A bank has taken no reasonable steps to verify the customer if those are the details they rely on to identify them.


While it is needed for large scale fraud prevention and high value, as most understand it costs more time and money than the worth of the fraud to actually track down and prosecute someone. When i worked in the UK I had friends working in a fraud dept at a well known bank and they would tell me of daily occurrences of writing off £40-50,000. They would just close the account and move on