Fake quake claimants hunted

By Cullen Smith

EQC are vowing to bring more fraudsters to court. People of Canterbury have a low tolerance for fraud says EQCs Reid Stiven.
EQC are vowing to bring more fraudsters to court. People of Canterbury have a low tolerance for fraud says EQCs Reid Stiven.

Earthquake claim fraudsters are still being hunted down almost three years on from the city's devastating quakes.

Mairehau woman Poulomi Chaterjee, 35, yesterday admitted making false insurance claims totalling $48,620 and using photographs from the internet to support them.

She pleaded guilty in the district court to four charges of dishonestly using documents relating to a number of claims for household items ranging from broken china to musical instruments.

EQC paid out on the claims and is now seeking reparations of more than $37,500.

And EQC are vowing to bring more fraudsters to court.

"Our experience is that the people of Canterbury have a low tolerance for fraud," said EQC Canterbury home repair programme manager Reid Stiven.

Mr Stiven said 130 claims had been referred to the police involving 23 people and there were many more "in the pipeline".

EQC had a confidential investigation line where members of the public can report suspicious activity - 0800 0027 28 - and an online form on the EQC website.

Mr Stiven said a specialist EQC team dedicated to detecting fraud had come across a wide range of fraudulent claims valued from $10,000 to $78,000.

"Fraud ranges from false repair claims to damaged sofas that did not belong to the claimant, or damaged whiteware and electronic gear and furniture - later found in the claimant's garage without any damage whatsoever.

"We have had people try to submit false invoices from contractors, and we have tracked down the contractor to find they did not provide the invoice or something on the invoice is altered to support the customer's claim."

In one case a landlord who owned several properties claimed for reroofing. Further investigation found a photograph taken in 2010 showing that the new roof was in place before the earthquake event.

Mr Stiven said fraud cases typically related to contents and dwelling claims but contents claims were reducing, given most have been settled.

"We are also investigating other types of fraud, some of which are quite complex, and we expect to refer more files to the police for prosecution in the near future."

Mr Stiven said EQC had investigated hundreds of cases "where there was something that did not add up".

"Not every claim that attracts attention involves deliberate dishonesty and very often there has been an honest mistake or a good reason why there is no need to take the matter further.

"Our investigations may result in the claim being adjusted or declined and, in some instances, this could have a bearing on the customer's ability to get insurance in the future."

Mr Stiven said EQC looked into "a couple of claims" from the July Cook Strait earthquakes where fraud was suspected, but concluded there was no need for further action.

"Internationally, it's been recognised that around 40 per cent of frauds are detected as a result of people raising concerns about something that didn't add up."

Christchurch private investigator Verdi van Beek said he'd investigated "numerous" fraudulent insurance claims over many years.

"Obviously you look at what the claimant is saying and try to verify what they're saying with the facts," he said.

"It's not rocket science."

Mr van Beek said investigators would look for some proof that the items were actually owned by the claimant and whether in fact they existed at all.

"Every case is different."

- Christchurch Star

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