The Ministry of Consumer Affairs says a major international phone scam shut down is believed to have swindled $10 million out of unsuspecting New Zealanders.
A judge in the United States on Wednesday ordered a halt to the scam involving telemarketers trying to con people into buying software to clear computers of bogus viruses and spyware.
The scam targeted New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland and the US.
Police said one in three New Zealanders have been called and those who have fallen for the scam have handed over $200 each on average.
The US Federal Trade Commission estimates that tens of thousands of people worldwide have been affected, each paying up to $US450 to fix non-existent problems. Chairman Jon Leibowitz said the scammers had created a new level of virtual mayhem with their actions.
The commission said five of the six scammers used telemarketing boiler rooms for the calls. The sixth lured consumers by placing ads with search engine Google which appeared when people looked for their computer company's tech support telephone number.
After getting consumers on the phone, the callers claimed they were affiliated with legitimate companies including Dell, Microsoft, McAfee and Norton. Eighty domain names and 130 different phone numbers were used.
Australia's Communications and Media Authority helped US authorities bust the scam. Executive manager Vince Humphries said even though the scammers have had their assets frozen, they would never be completely shut down.
New Zealand online safety organisation, Netsafe, agrees. Cyber-security consultant Chris Hails says it is very easy for scam companies to start up again and he knows of some coming back for their victims a second time.