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Police make 13 arrests, search for more people, following 'Operation Deadwood' investigation into alleged phone scam and money laundering

Police make 13 arrests, search for more people, following 'Operation Deadwood' investigation into alleged phone scam and money laundering

New Zealand Police say they have made 13 arrests following an investigation, dubbed Operation Deadwood, into an alleged sophisticated phone scam that has seen New Zealanders bilked out of millions of dollars.

The Police say they are also searching for other people involved in the scam, and have issued photos of three men wanted for alleged money laundering in relation to their investigation.

Below is the full statement released by NZ Police.

Operation Deadwood: Police make 13 arrests over sophisticated phone scam

Police have arrested 13 people for money laundering and are actively searching for more people involved, as investigations continue into an ongoing sophisticated phone scam that has seen New Zealander’s lose millions of dollars.

Earlier this year the Auckland City Fraud Unit launched Operation Deadwood, after receiving reports of people who had lost tens of thousands of dollars to phone scammers, who convinced victims to hand over money after claiming to be from Spark and/or the Police.

Over the past few months, Police have received more than a hundred reports from people across New Zealand who have lost money totalling more than $2.5 million.

Detective Sergeant Kevin Blackman says those figures are likely to be the tip of the iceberg with Police believing the actual number of victims to be several hundreds.

“We know there are victims that are either too embarrassed to report their losses or have directly contacted their banks rather than contact Police, so we don’t know the exact scale of this offending.”

“The victims in these cases have often lost tens of thousands of dollars, with one victim losing around a quarter of a million dollars to the scammers.

“In many of these cases, the victims are told to download software from a website which has then given the scammers access to the victim’s computer, where they have unwittingly transferred funds out of the individual’s bank accounts.”

Since July, Police have arrested 12 men and one woman, aged between 21 and 33, for money laundering and their cases are currently being heard in court.

Detective Blackman says the arrests have taken place in Auckland, Hamilton and Napier.
“I want to reassure the community that Police treat these scams seriously.

“We know there are more offenders out there targeting victims and we will do everything we can to identify them and hold them to account.”

Police are now seeking the public’s assistance to help locate three men who have warrants to arrest for money laundering in relation to this investigation.

They are Manish Khan, 24, Tushar Prabhakar 21, and Hitesh Sharma, 22 (photos below).

“These three men are believed to be in the Auckland area and have links in particular to South and East Auckland.

“They are also known to frequent the Auckland Airport area and Auckland Central, including SkyCity.

“We want to hear immediately from anyone who has seen these individuals.”

Anyone with details about their whereabouts can provide information to Detective Gillum by phoning 09 213 4300 or by emailing sends e-mail).

Information can also be provided anonymously to Crimestoppers by phoning 0800 555 111.

Detective Sergeant Blackman says Police are concerned that despite public warnings, they are still continuing to receive reports of people falling victims to this scam.

“We really need the community to help us spread the message to their friends and family, particularly the more vulnerable, elderly members of our community, to make sure they are also aware of this scam.

“The victims are always rung on their landlines at home. This is an important reminder to never give your personal details over the phone to a stranger.

“A legitimate business or a member of the NZ Police will never ask for your bank details over the phone or ask you to transfer money.

“If you think a call may be suspicious, hang up immediately.

“If you have concerns about a call, ring the company back on their publicly listed number, not the number they have called you on, and alert them to the call you have just received.”

Police encourage anyone who has lost money as a result of this scam to report it to their local Police station if they are yet to do so.

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.



Since they work to landlines, there's probably a large number of victims who are elderly.

A disconcerting trend and a little bit of a shock that it was New Zealand based - we tend to assume that a lot of these scams are based in call centres in the likes of Mumbai or Abuja.
The only positive of this incident is that unlike these off-shore based scams, the New Zealand Police were able to take action to identify them and put them before the courts.

Sadly, while this may be a first such incident in New Zealand, it is probably most certainly not going to be the last.

We have had a number of called to our landline from so called Spark, standard story, "your broadband is going to be disconnected in 24 hours, push 1 to speak to someone", but the story is never to push 1.

I remember years ago a radio station rang up a woman as a prank telling her a power surge was heading towards her house, and did she have any power points that didn't have something plugged in, so the power could get out into the house? They range he back a few mins later to check, and she had plugged everything she could find into a power point, vacuum cleaner , the works . The reality is when under pressure, some people just do what they are told, and believe the caller without question, but the same people given time to think about what's going on, and having someone else to talk to, will usually spot a prank/scam.

These scammers know what they are doing, older people with money are their targets, too big a risk that calling a cellphone they will not only be wasting their time, but leaving an easy trail to catch them with and they know that.

Yes, both my 95-year-old mother, my sister and myself have all received calls from these scumbags over the last months or so. I detected an Indianesque accent.
Our justice system and our immigration minister will come down hard on this lot: I imagine they will bear the full brunt of the law and get the Draconian 3 months home detention sentence. Those of recent overseas origin will now have to wait at least a further 3 months before obtaining residence.
Immigration will have to tweak their skilled worker categories to exclude 'telephone call-centre' workers I should imagine.

What do we expect.
We import all these low skilled workers or students. Then they are desperate to stay. They have come to NZ for understandable reasons. When I ask Indian people why they come, you appreciate why. Quite horrible, overcrowded, polluted, dirty and stressful cities. A system where caste is still prevalent, and access to opportunity can be difficult. Poor social services
Here, they work in crappy jobs that pay crappy money. And in the case of Auckland, live in a very expensive city.
There is greater tolerance in their home cultures for fraudulent behaviour.

I'm not excusing this behaviour at all. But you have to think that our immigration settings are setting us up for these issues.

Yep I guess you are correct. Without knowing too much background, they appear to be early 20s immigrants (I'd assume some type of visa). Our immigration system leaves us open to this.

I would says Kiwis have a culture that tolerates fraudulent behaviour too. But I guess it’s easier to say immigrants are importing the “tolerance in their cultures for fraudulent behaviour”.

Totally disagree.
I don't think kiwis have a tolerance for fraud at all, generally speaking.
We are a pretty clean and honest country in terms of doing business (of course there's always an exception)

I thought the same till I spent years living in a couple of different countries with very high rates of corruption. New Zealand is actually pretty darn good, and it's something that needs protecting. Corruption makes life awful for basically everyone except the few higher up the ladders.

I agree with you Fritz but there are plenty of low-skilled jobs in which genuine immigrants wishing to better themselves could work e.g. farming, fruit-picking, construction, hospitality and so on. These would-be's look upon New Zealand as a 'soft touch'. They don't want to do the hard yards, preferring to rort the system to make a fast buck. I have nice neighbours from India and they couldn't be better; in fact they are better than my pakeha neighbours; they work in highly skilled jobs thus making a contribution to the country.
Fritz, if you know anything about social history you will know that our pakeha ancestors who arrived in New Zealand in the 1800s came from pretty dire backgrounds in Britain (mainly): and many from "horrible, overcrowded, polluted, dirty and stressful cities". Most of mine certainly did. But on the whole our ancestors made a fist of it by honest toil. (By all accounts Maori lived a precarious existence before pakeha arrived and I believe the pakeha arrival lifted their potential for a better standard of living, and today you will have noticed we are rightly addressing the negative impact on their culture.)
But,in this case, if these scam-artists do not have NZ residence, and they are found guilty in the courts, I hope our Mr Lees-Galloway will kick them out of the country pronto; it would be gutless for him not to.

Good comment. Of course there are plenty of lovely and honest people from India.
But I can only go from my experience in the business world where I've witnessed a lot of fraudulent / corrupt behaviour.
You can call me a racist if you like. I'm just calling it how I've seen it.

That is the rub. That is the big question. How can scum like this get so easily into our country and start victimising our citizens, just as easily? NZ needs to be vigilant but the greenies and do gooders say it’s a lovely free world and everybody is bonny & good.As far as they are concerned, reality sucks!

Many true greenies (as opposed to green virtue signalers peddling globalism and open borders) truly understand you can't help the environment by expanding the population through mass immigration.

If convicted, not PR or NZ citizen, deport them, to make an example of them

Lots of good immigrants. Just revoke any NZ status and return to sender.

One problem HUMAN RIGHTS, and this Labour government loves the UN

If you use a computer to access your bank set up your account to require a TXT code to your phone as part of the logon process.

These scams are pretty obvious so it surprises me that people still fall for it in such high numbers. I sometimes play with these guys. Got a call from someone claiming they were from Spark and there was a problem with my Internet connection. I asked them to send me an email but they couldn't as there was something wrong with my Internet even though my email was working perfectly. They claimed they tried to send an email but it didn't work so I asked them what my email address was and they didn't know. I asked them what my account number was and they didn't know.

One called me, I asked him to tell me what my name was, he couldn't even do that, and got angry when I kept asking him if he could just tell me my name, haha. He hung up.

"If you use a computer to access your bank set up your account to require a TXT code to your phone as part of the logon process."

Problem is scammers thought of a way around that - they ring your telco and get your cell number swapped to a different SIM they have - then they get the TXT. Some use 2FA (two factor authentication) - ASB I believe use a fob that generates a code. 2FA is good - something you know (password) and something you have (fob).

There is a whole sport devoted to teasing these scammers. I just hang up - scammers - telemarketers

Do we have any data on people deported for fraudulent activities, small or big ? The big fish get way by donating to the parties, the small by appealing to the emotions of the sentencing authorities. It should be one strike and you are out, literally, out of the country. Especially for people on temporary visas, like student, work, migrant work, etc. Stricter rules should also apply to those on Residence visas with a little more leeway for second and third chances.

Oh dam I will miss my regular call from Bob from Spark with an Indian accent
I ask them how do you turn a computer on? what is Spark a firelighter? they get pissed off and say you are wasting my time and then hang up
Haven't heard from Bob in a while

Never believe any voice over the phone, phone scams have gone on for years, just hang up, if in doubt ring the Police, a scammer will say anything to you not call Spark and the Police or bank directly even saying its illegal, utter Rubbish, thats a way of exposing them

They are LIARS, just hang up on them or say I know you are scammer and a liar and will call the police, then hang up on them