National | Tangihanga

Scammers target grieving whānau of Touch Rugby icon

A person sitting at a computer holding a credit card.

Internet scammers have hit a new low, targeting grieving whānau with fake tangihanga livestream links and false koha donation lines.

Whata Wanakore and his whānau lost their beloved mother and grandmother, Paula Wanakore, aged 54, from illness in January.

“She passed away in the morning and we posted a public announcement to let everyone know. By that afternoon fake pages were already doing the rounds on social media, including false livestream pages to view her funeral but it wasn’t us, her family,” says Wanakore.

“The next disgusting act was that these scammers were asking people to give their condolences through koha to fake bank accounts. They played on the heartache and kindness of those wanting to help.”

Mr Wanakore said the scam targeted anyone who had replied or sent a message to the initial whānau announcement. He became aware when he also received a direct message on the day his mother died.

“I thought what the bloody hell is this? We weren’t livestreaming Mum’s tangi. We reported it and put out an urgent post urging everyone not to pay or give their credit card details. But the moment one page got pulled down another was ready to go and posted. It was co-ordinated. It even looked legit and used te reo Māori.”

A Touch Rugby icon

Paula Wanakore was a primary and high school teacher throughout the Waikato and Maniapoto for 30 years. She represented New Zealand in touch rugby and had also been a national coach of the New Zealand Women’s U21′s before moving to Australia ten years ago where she started a kohanga reo on the Gold Coast where she died.

Hundreds from school and sporting communities attended her tangihanga at Kahotea Marae in Otorohanga.

“We were grieving. We were exhausted trying to get her home. Mum was so big hearted, and we wanted to celebrate her life with those she had helped. But our Nan was angry and hurt that others were trying to maximise and profit from her daughter’s death. It was shocking,” says Wanakore.

Concerns ignored

Māori AI, Data and Merging Tech Ethicist, Dr. Karaitiana Taiuru, says that the AI scams have been on the rise since last December.

“They usually resemble a real person, often very convincing and the key issue is once you click that link, you’re often asked for personal details and a credit card. What is happening is we have scammers using things like AI and social media especially trying to trick Māori into providing credit card details and it’s increasing every week. If it looks suspicious, it is suspicious,” Dr Taiuru says.

He says the messaging might be in te reo Māori but if it doesn’t make sense to a Māori speaker then its most likely a scam.

“The other issue is when we raise these issues with the various protection bodies we just get ignored,” Taiuru says.

Protect Kaumātua

Whata Wanakore said he had shared their experience because Māori communities often rallied during hardships and gave whatever they could. Elderly were especially vulnerable.

“It’s about bringing awareness to te ao Māori. Everyone gives because you just wanna help in the moment and wouldn’t hesitate to question because you love them. But kaumatua might not have a clue about scamming or even comprehend there are people waiting to use grief to make a profit,” says Wanakore.

The internet is a strong means of communication, but he urges bereaved whānau to have one central person and contact point and for supporters to check directly with the bereaved family.

Kapa Haka not immune

The news of tangihanga scamming coincided with the launch of Kapa Haka regionals where thousands of performers will compete for a shot at Te Matatini national stage.

Half an hour before the first group took the stage at Mataatua regionals on Friday, 20 fake pages had appeared, including fake sites seeking credit card payments to view the action.

The regionals are livestreamed for free on Whakaata Māori and MĀORI+.

Te Rito