Psychologist Nigel Latta is fronting a new TVNZ series called ‘You’ve Been Scammed’.
Over summer, we’re revisiting some of the biggest and best podcast series from the NZ Herald network throughout 2023.
In his long and varied career, Nigel Latta has covered everything from murderers to children, finances to Antarctica, and a whole host of things in between.
For his latest series, though, Latta is taking on one of the biggest problems plaguing Kiwis today – scams.
In his new TVNZ show You’ve Been Scammed, the psychologist looks at the various types of scams that are ruining people’s lives, and the traits we have that make us vulnerable to being targeted.
Speaking to Paula Bennett on her NZ Herald podcast Ask Me Anything, Latta said he was drawn into investigating this as the scale of the issue is “astounding”.
“I do think it’s kind of ironic because everyone’s getting so wound up about, you know, teenagers driving cars into buildings, but if you think about the scale of the problem and harm caused – and I’m not saying those things don’t cause harm and trauma to people – but also, people are losing millions and millions of dollars.
“And these are not just millionaires losing millions of dollars. These are people losing 300 bucks here, 50 bucks here, 1,000 here, who can’t afford to lose that much.”
He said there’s often this stereotype that “gullible, greedy people” get targeted, but the scammers know there’s an amount of money that they can maintain before it raises suspicions.
One thing that will make scamming more difficult in the coming years is the rise of artificial intelligence.
“Poor grammar and spelling always used to be a thing. It used to be a way to do it, but… if it hasn’t already disappeared, it will completely disappear. And video and audio stuff will get better too. I think Google are working on a thing where, like, you give it three seconds of someone talking and it can generate really convincing-sounding stuff.
“But at the same time, the white-hat people can be using that stuff for good too. NetSafe has this fantastic chatbot they created – if you are being scammed or you think you are a scammy email, you send it to this chatbot, and then it basically just engages the scammer in this ridiculous conversation.”
While Latta is focused on scams for now, he told Bennett that bureaucracy is one area he hopes to explore in a later project, and the psychology of politicians and public servants.
Latta noted everyone’s nervous systems have had a “thorough jangling” after the Covid pandemic, but it’s not being helped by increasing societal divisions.
“The world’s taken this weird turn too, because it’s difficult to have a nuanced conversation about something ‘cause you’re either basically for everything, in which case you’re woke, or you’re against it, in which case you’re Jordan Peterson. And so there’s no middle ground.”
Bennett noted that she raised this in a column the other week about why it’s hard to be a white man in New Zealand. Latta said it’s difficult because there are a lot of times “white guys with beards” screw things up, but it’s not all of them.
“What’s difficult, I think, is as soon as you say stuff like that, the Jordan Peterson crowd go, ‘Yeah, that’s right, we’re all victims. It’s so hard being us’. No, it’s not. It’s like, if you want to be successful, the best thing to do is be a white middle-class heterosexual man. Like, it’s the best thing to do. And as soon as you say that, they’ll go, ‘Oh, you’re woke’. And it’s like, no, it’s actually true.
“You don’t have to agree with everything and disagree with everything. You can have an opinion, and it doesn’t mean that you should get yelled at or shut down or any of those sorts of things. Like, freedom of speech is kind of important – even this freedom to say dumb stuff.”
Listen to the full podcast to hear more from Nigel Latta and Paula on scams and the state of society.
Ask Me Anything is an NZ Herald podcast, hosted by Paula Bennett. New episodes return in March.