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Nigel Latta looking scammy next to a brick wall. Photograph shot from a weirdly low angle
Nigel Latta looking scammy (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureJuly 4, 2023

Nobody is safe from Nigel Latta’s scams

Nigel Latta looking scammy next to a brick wall. Photograph shot from a weirdly low angle
Nigel Latta looking scammy (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)

Alex Casey reviews TVNZ’s You’ve Been Scammed by Nigel Latta, a new documentary series looking to get New Zealanders more savvy about scammers. 

The lowdown

As described by Chris Schulz in this excellent profile over the weekend, psychologist Nigel Latta is NZ’s most trusted TV dad (albeit one who is absent from our lives for long periods at a time). We’ve become used to seeing him pop up every couple of years to examine a complex corner of modern life – it could be parenting, it could be serial killers, it could our own brains. This time around, he’s taking aim at something that can wrap its tendrils around absolutely anyone: scamming. 

In a four-part series for TVNZ, Latta is looking at the most common forms of scamming in Aotearoa, from impersonation to phishing, extortion to romance scams. Joining Latta are safety experts such as Sean Lyons from Netsafe and cybersecurity specialist Daniel Watson, as well as real-life victims who have experienced scamming first hand. These aren’t just small scams either – in the first episode, a woman reveals that she lost $100k in an investment scam. 

Nigel Latta is… scamming

Given the range of people I know that have either come close or fallen victim to being scammed (everyone from a woman in her 60s who now blows a referee whistle into her phone if she doesn’t recognise the number, to a savvy lawyer in her 30s who fell for a cash prize draw on an Instagram story), the subject of the show does feel rather urgent. And, as Latta tells us in the opening moments, nine out of 10 New Zealanders reckon they can spot a scam… but can they really? 

The good

First of all, I’d be remiss not to mention that the You’ve Been Scammed by Nigel Latta theme tune has a powerful dubstep beat drop that will really get you in the mood to squash some scammers. And, before you ask, yes the opening sequence features a hooded figure surrounded by code. Yes, there is at least one blurred out man who sounds like he is taking through a toilet roll. And yes, of course, there are fast cuts of fingers typing furiously. 

All of this establishes a gritty, gripping feel, not unlike the high drama of Patrick Gower On [insert social problem]. Latta’s HQ appears to be set up inside the carcass of Cinema 180, which is where he sets up the first trait to look out for in scammers – confidence. “The con in con artist stands for confidence,” Latta reveals, as I gasp from beneath my hood. I don’t know what I thought the con meant (contrarian? contraband? controversial?) but I am learning already. 

While you might be imagining a scam victim to be a stock image of a granny holding an empty purse and frowning, the show is at its strongest when meeting a wide range of scam victims. There’s the aforementioned woman who lost $100,000 in a fake investment scam, despite doing extensive research, and the young professional who follows Frances Cook, scammed into thinking a bot account imitating the personal finance expert was inviting him to a private WhatsApp group. 

Nigel Latta in his scam bunker

The bad

As a fan of both the work of Derren Brown and the Now You See Me franchise, this is more a warning than a critique: a magician appears right around the five minute mark and there is no sign that he is going to be leaving anytime soon. Deployed by Latta to showcase the psychological tricks that scammers can use, episode one sees the magician pretending to be a sound engineer on the show, secretly nicking people’s ties and watches while he mics them up.

I’m just not sure how relatable or useful this situation is, given that getting mic’d up is about the most vulnerable position a person can ever be in, so of course their defences are down when a magician with a man bun slips a pack of cards in their pocket. A more effective experiment comes slightly later, when Latta himself sets up a phishing scam using a fake website for the show’s production company, and emails interested contributors to provide credit card details to prepay for parking. 

As one of the duped parties revealed, he didn’t think twice about checking the URL or reading the garbled Gmail account the request came from, and forgave the misspelling of Latta’s own name as the work of an under-the-pump production person (fair). In a very nice touch, again reminiscent of Now You See Me, those who fell for the scam and clicked the link received a personalised video message from Nigel Latta himself.

“This is not the website that you believe it to be, this is a scam site that I created.” I have chills.

The verdict: Entertaining, educational and jam-packed with a Latta scams, worth a watch for people all of ages – especially those who didn’t even know what “con man” stood for.

Watch You’ve Been Scammed by Nigel Latta here on TVNZ+

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