Fraud convictions take big fall

Over 400 fraud convictions were handed down in Northland last financial year, the vast majority for obtaining by deception.

Figures from Statistics New Zealand show 410 fraud convictions were recorded in the 12 months to June 30 - down from 582 in the year prior.

Nearly all last year's fraud convictions - 368 of the 410 - were for Northlanders obtaining by deception - "the use of deception or impersonation with the intent of dishonestly obtaining property, goods or services, or other benefit".

However, 18 convictions were handed down for forgery and counterfeiting, and 24 for other fraud and deception offences. The Ministry of Social Development is warning beneficiary fraudsters they are stealing from taxpayers and offenders will be hunted down and prosecuted.

Last month, a Whangarei couple who between them stole more than $72,000 from taxpayers by making false statements to get welfare benefits were sentenced to home detention. The pair were claiming benefits as single people, but living together as a couple.

Also in January, a Whangarei woman who ripped off social welfare to the tune of $18,327.43 was sentenced to community detention, despite previous convictions for defrauding the benefit system.

Josephine Lillian Te Tore, 45, was sentenced on two charges of wilful omission and one of making a false statement. She had been working as a cleaner while claiming the sickness benefit.

Judge Duncan Harvey said the benefit system relied on honesty.

"When you commit offences of this nature you are not stealing from the agency, you are stealing from the citizens of New Zealand, because huge amounts [of taxpayer] money every year are put into benefits."

Nationally, 13,349 convictions were handed down for fraud in the last financial year - an increase on the previous 12 months.

Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive Iona Holsted said each year the ministry administered around $16 billion of social assistance. More than $23 million in benefit fraud was detected last financial year and 714 successful benefit fraud prosecutions carried out.

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.

- Northern Advocate

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