Page last updated: 26 May 2022

Scam basics

Investment scams are becoming increasingly more sophisticated at targetting even the most vigilant person. Because many scams are operated by criminals overseas, once you’ve given them any money it is very hard and very rare to get it back – even from countries with tough anti-fraud laws.

Investment scams are becoming increasingly more sophisticated at targetting even the most vigilant person. Because many scams are operated by criminals overseas, once you’ve given them any money it is very hard and very rare to get it back – even from countries with tough anti-fraud laws. Where you send it probably isn’t where it ends up. That’s why it’s vital you protect yourself by not getting involved in the first place. This section of the website arms you with the information you need to protect yourself from being scammed. We recommend that you bookmark our Scam warnings and alerts page as a quick check before you engage or transact with a company. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Scam basics

It can be hard to know if you’ve been scammed or are being scammed. Scammers know how to win people’s confidence, hence why they’re also called ”con artists”. Many even form close relationships with victims. With investments, often they first charm you by telling or showing you how wealthy they are, then talk you into giving them your money so you can be wealthy too, and then finally keep on giving you excuses as to why they can’t pay you your money back.

What are the obvious signs of a scam?

You might not see all of these common signs of a scam, but just one or two should ring alarm bells:

  • They give you little or no information in writing. Trustworthy investments should have written documents that clearly explain the investment in plain English to you, including any important details. Generally, offers of financial products (such as shares) also have specific rules around what must be disclosed to investors to help ensure that they receive accurate information that is not misleading / deceptive.
  • They ask for unusual payments. Scammers hate using ‘normal’ banks. If they want you to pay using wire services or credit cards, by cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, or into an overseas bank account or a NZ bank with a different name than their company, such as a personal account, they’re probably not legit.
  • They claim you’ve already made a profit despite not yet paying them any money. This is to fool you into paying an ‘initial deposit’. Legitimate providers generally don’t let you invest on credit.
  • They keep wanting more money. They may tell you the sale can only go ahead if you buy more of the investment, or that there are taxes or fees to be paid.
  • They can’t or won’t pay you back. Legitimate investments in financial products such as such as shares, foreign exchange and derivatives can usually be sold within hours or days. You should be able to get some or all of your money back that quickly. Exceptions include shares that no one wants. Investments sold outside licensed markets may take longer to sell, but you should only deal in those investments through licensed firms.
  • They’re on the FMA’s Warning List of known scams. BUT beware scammers regularly change their names, so just because they’re not on our list doesn’t mean they’re not a scam.

If you think you’re being scammed

Do a reality check:

  • Stop and ask yourself: "Is this for real?" Read the signs listed above and if any of them apply to your situation, write down your own list of reasons it could be a scam.
  • Don’t assume something is safe just because a family member, friend, workmate, church leader or other trusted contact recommends it – they may be victims too, or scammers themselves.
  • Don’t be tricked into thinking a company is legitimate because their advertising is on a credible website or social media platform, and be suspicious of ‘celebrity endorsements’.
  • Ask family or friends what they think. See what someone you know who’s good with money thinks about what your suspicions. Others can help you ‘wake up’ to the reality of a scam.
  • Check with your local Citizens Advice Bureau or budgeting advice service. They’re usually able to give free advice.

Do some digging:

  • Search for the company on NZ’s online Financial Service Providers Register. If it is not there, they probably can’t provide financial services in NZ.
  • Note any discrepancies in their bank details. If they say they’re in one country but their bank account is in a different country, it could be a scam.
  • Check the website registration details. Use a “who is” web tool to find out who registered it, and when. If it wasn’t in a country where the business says it is based, and/or was recently set up when they claim to have been operating for years, be very suspicious.
  • Reverse search any images on their website. Sites like Tineye.com let you copy and paste images into their search engine and they will tell you where else it’s been used.
  • Ask to see the Public Disclosure Statement (PDS) for the investment. Almost all legitimate investments offered in NZ must have some form of disclosure document.

Take decisive action:

  • Tell them to communicate by email. Get what they’re saying in writing, and ask for summaries of your investments to date, so you can begin a paper trail.
  • Stop paying them money: Make no more payments even if they say it will help get your money back. This is all part of the scam.
  • Ask for all or some of your money back. Say you need it urgently. Most investments traded on financial markets can usually be sold immediately, at most within days. If they can’t or won’t trade yours that quickly, or say you must pay more to get it back, it’s probably a scam.

If you know you’ve been scammed

  • Stop contact with the scammer. If they phone, hang up. If they send emails or letters, don’t reply. If you maintain contact they will only try to get more money or information out of you.
  • Contact your bank immediately. They will have a policy to deal with fraud. If you have sent money through another bank or transfer service, contact the service you used to do that.
  • Contact us: We can give you advice or put you in touch with someone who can. We’re limited in what we can do if the scammers are overseas, but if they are in NZ we can investigate and warn others. Contact the FMA. 
  • Tell family or friends what’s happened. It can be hard to admit that you’ve been tricked and lost money, but scammers rely on this shame and secrecy because it helps them keep scamming others.
  • Contact Victim Support on 0800 842 846 or visit their website. They can provide free emotional and practical support and information.

If a relative or friend is being scammed

  • Tell them you think it’s a scam. Scam victims usually don’t realise what’s happening until it’s too late and they can’t get money back, or they may not want to believe they have been tricked.
  • Suggest they visit the FMA website. Some victims don’t even know what a scam is, or they can’t believe that scammers can be so good at tricking people. Ask them to read the warning signs of a scam listed above, and to do some digging online. Help them to do this if necessary.
  • Use Consumer Protection's "Could this be a scam?" worksheet to help them understand if they have been scammed.

If you or someone else is in danger

Call the police on 105 for non-emergencies, or 111 if you are in immediate danger.

Because many scams are operated by criminals overseas, once you’ve given them any money it is very hard and very rare to get it back – even from countries with tough anti-fraud laws. Where you send it probably isn’t where it ends up. That’s why it’s vital you protect yourself by not getting involved in the first place.

Ignore uninvited investment offers

  • In New Zealand, it is illegal to sell financial products (such as shares) through an unsolicited meeting, for example a “cold call” or uninvited email.
  • If you do receive a call, letter or email from a stranger about an investment opportunity, hang up, throw it away or block them.
  • If they keep trying, contact the FMA, or ask your phone or email service provider to block them.
  • If they become abusive or threatening, call the police on 105 for non-emergencies, or 111 if you are in immediate danger.

Do not invest through offshore, online businesses

  • Financial service businesses with no offices in New Zealand are harder to regulate and police as they’re based overseas so not as easy for the FMA to contact or investigate.
  • It is often impossible to recover your money if an overseas investment turns out to be a scam. We cannot help you if things go wrong.
  • If a business is overseas with no office in NZ, or even if they sound like they are overseas, it’s even more important you do your research before you invest: Where are they? Is it a country with tough financial regulations like ours? How can you be sure they are who they say they are? Or even that they are where they say they are?
  • Some scammers use an imposter website, designed to look exactly like a legitimate investment. They may use the same name, logo and address as a genuine business, even though they have no connection. They may even hijack a genuine website and redirect emails to themselves.

Use a licensed or registered financial service provider

  • Providers of a financial service in New Zealand are generally required to be publicly registered on the Financial Service Providers Register (FSPR).
  • To register on the FSPR they must provide a physical address and may be subject to criminal checks.
  • If they provide financial services to ‘retail clients’ (eg most ‘mum and dad’ investors), they are also required to be a member of a third party approved dispute resolution scheme.
  • When dealing with a financial service provider, you should be able to find or be told the details of which dispute resolution scheme you can contact if something goes wrong
  • For some investments (such as derivatives), providers might also need to be licensed by the FMA. Those seeking a licence must first be assessed by the FMA, and will be subject to continued monitoring to ensure they meet the standards set by the regulations.
  • Just because a provider is registered or licenced, it doesn’t mean they can do no wrong. Always conduct your own research and due diligence, and look out for the signs of a scam.

Who to contact

  • Contact the FMA if the scam relates to an illegal investment offer or scheme. Please ensure you include your contact details so that we can be in touch.
  • Consumer Protection’s Scamwatch publishes a list of scam alerts. You can report a scam on their website too.
  • Department of Internal Affairs lists a range of scams by format, eg, email, text message, phone, fax and postal scams. You can report scams to them, including forwarding text message scams to the free shortcode 7726 (SPAM).

IOSCO is an important resource

IOSCO receives alerts and warnings from its members about firms which are not authorized to provide investment services in the jurisdiction which issued the alert or warning.

If you believe that a warning has been published in error, or there are other good reasons for us to take down a warning that has been published, please contact us, providing the following information:

  • your contact details
  • the warning you would like removed
  • your reasons why the FMA should take down the notice
  • evidence to support your reasons.

We will assess your request and, if appropriate, remove the notice as soon as possible. The more information you provide, the easier it will be for us to act quickly.

We may contact and consult with other people who have an interest in the outcome of a request to remove a warning.

Since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, the FMA has seen a rise in the number of complaints about investment scams and fraud.

Scammers are taking advantage of the crisis either by using COVID-19 as part of their ‘pitch’, or using the economic climate to prey on peoples’ fears and desires.

The FMA has received significantly more complaints about scams in the first half of 2021 – and subsequently issued more public warnings about them – compared to both 2020 and 2019.

  • From January to June 2021, we received 158 complaints about investment scams and fraud – up 79% on the 88 complaints received during the same period in 2020, when the pandemic began, and up 49% on the 106 complaints in the first half of 2019.
  • As a result, from January to June, we issued 36 public warnings about suspected scams and other non-compliant entities – up 29% on the 28 warnings issued during the same period in 2020, and up 80% on the 20 issued in the first half of 2019.

The FMA has seen a rise in the following types of scam activity since the start of 2020:

International scams

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, international regulators have been issuing warnings about investment scammers who are exploiting the current market conditions and uncertainty.

These include the following investment offers and activities observed overseas:

  • Goods or industries experiencing strong demand, such as sanitary products or pharmaceutical companies,
  • Products supposedly effective against COVID-19, such as vaccines, medications, protective gear or equipment,
  • So-called "safe haven" assets, including cryptocurrencies or precious metals such as gold, silver or platinum,
  • Promises of “passive income” or “cash flow” to appeal to people looking for new sources of regular income,
  • “Pump and dump” of low priced stocks, “pumped” up by fraudsters spreading false information about a company, then “dumped” by them once unsuspecting investors rush in.

Scammers are also using common techniques to trick anxious consumers:

  • Phishing emails, claiming to be from health authorities, banks or insurers, trying to trick people into sending sensitive information, or open attachments with malware,
  • Telephone scams, pretending to be from health authorities, claiming that a relative has fallen sick and requesting payments for medical treatment.

Related information

Reports of COVID-related scams by offshore regulators