627 fraud convictions in Hawke's Bay

By Brendan Manning


More than 600 fraud convictions were handed down in Hawke's Bay last financial year, the vast majority for obtaining by deception.

And the Ministry of Social Development is warning beneficiary fraudsters they are stealing from taxpayers and offenders will be hunted down and prosecuted.

Figures from Statistics New Zealand show 627 fraud convictions were recorded locally in the 12 months to June 30 - down from 732 in the previous year.

Nearly all last year's fraud convictions (606) were for Hawke's Bay residents obtaining benefits by deception. However, seven convictions were handed down for forgery and counterfeiting, and 14 for other fraud and deception offences.

Earlier this month, a woman who pretended to be a courier company employee was jailed for 21 months for numerous charges relating to an identity fraud.

Chanelle Betty Sandilands, 30, cold-called a Havelock North couple and successfully duped them into giving out their credit card details.

And disgraced former Waipawa accountant Warren Pickett was released from prison last August, after serving a minimum non-parole period of three years and four months in jail for two decades of deceit, in which he cheated more than 200 friends and other trusting clients of up to $20 million.

Nationally, 13,349 convictions were handed down for fraud in the past financial year, the majority (12,161) for obtaining benefits by deception - an increase on the previous year.

Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive Iona Holsted said that each year the ministry administered about $16 billion of social assistance.

More than $23 million in benefit fraud was detected last financial year and 714 successful benefit fraud prosecutions were carried out by the ministry.

Ms Holsted said an intelligence unit based in Wellington matched data with six other government agencies to identify and investigate benefit fraud, checking millions of records each year.

The ministry also had around 100 fraud investigators working to catch benefit cheats, she said.

An allegation phone line received nearly 15,000 calls last year. Those who stole from taxpayers were taking money from individuals and communities that genuinely needed it, Ms Holsted said.

"Benefit fraud will not be tolerated. Those who take what's not theirs and who meet the threshold for prosecution will be put before the courts."

The Serious Fraud Office uncovered more than $2.2 billion of fraud last financial year. The figure encompassed the investigation into South Canterbury Finance, the largest New Zealand fraud case of its kind. Twenty-one charges were laid against five individuals, totalling $1.8 billion.

To avoid being tricked or cheated out of your money, police advise dealing only with well-known and respected financial institutions when borrowing or investing.

If you think a person or a financial company is trying to cheat you, contact police.

To protect yourself against identity crime, police recommend shredding all documentation containing personal information, especially bank and credit card statements and old bills.

Make sure you have password access codes on computers that are changed regularly and are not easily figured out, such as phone numbers or car registrations.

Be careful who you give personal information to, especially over the phone or internet, and secure your letterbox so no one can get access to your mail.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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