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Number up on phone scam

Taranaki Daily News
9 March 2011


The firm which controls the New Zealand phone numbers used in a tax and earthquake scam says it has closed the numbers and given names to police.

The Taranaki Daily News exposed the scam last week, revealing that the callback numbers had been rented out to the fraudsters by an Australian firm Symbio Networks.

Symbio boss Andy Fung called the Taranaki Daily News from Australia yesterday to say the numbers had been closed, and that he was disappointed with his firm's initial response when the scam was rumbled last week.

New Plymouth woman Gillian Medhurst alerted the public to the scam last week.

Scammers were calling Taranaki people with bogus claims they were collecting for earthquake victims or could get people a $3500 tax refund for a $300 finder's fee. The newspaper believes the scam works from India. After the Daily News tracked the offending numbers down to Australian firm Symbio Networks, a company spokesman said it would make no comment.

Yesterday, Mr Fung was more forthcoming.

"This is a very sad story and people shouldn't be taking advantage of it. We don't condone these things," he said.

"We have shut the numbers down."

The firm sold the wholesale numbers, and its customers then provided them to the end users, he said.

"We have told our customers that this is not acceptable. We have told them that they are abusing our service and we have shut them down," Mr Fung said.

Symbio was a professional and ethical organisation which complied with all telecommunication regulations on both sides of the Tasman, he said. "We don't want our reputation tarnished."

Mr Fung said Symbio had given Auckland police the details of the people who were using the numbers.

"We always do the right thing by law enforcement agencies," he said.

Sergeant Mark Johnson, of New Plymouth, said it was a fantastic result.

"The good people of New Plymouth are not going to be bothered by these scammers any more," Mr Johnson said.

Telecommunication Users' Association of New Zealand chief executive Paul Brislen said that while Symbio's action has stopped the fraudsters for now, it was not the end of the problem. "They will just move on to another provider."

Internal affairs departments worldwide were working together to attempt to stamp the problem out, Mr Brislen said.

"There is a lot of work going on around these type of things because it is hard to know where they are based."

People who received telephone offers of tax money for a fee should hang up, Mr Brislen said.


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