Fraudsters rack up 100 convictions

One hundred fraud convictions were handed down in Wanganui in the past financial year, the vast majority for obtaining by deception.

Central police district spokeswoman Sara Stavropoulos said most of the fraud offences investigated by police last year in Wanganui, Marton and Hunterville involved fraudulent cheques.

Figures from Statistics New Zealand show 100 Wanganui fraud convictions were recorded in the year to June 30 - down from 124 the year before.

Nearly all last year's fraud convictions (95) were for people obtaining by deception "the use of deception or impersonation with the intent of dishonestly obtaining property, goods or services, or other benefit".

However, two convictions were handed down for forgery and counterfeiting, and three for other fraud and deception offences.

Last October, a former Wanganui businessman was sentenced at the Whanganui District Court to two years and eight months in prison for taking $428,000 from investor clients.

Steven Burlace, then 55, knowingly embezzled $280,000 of investors' money and used a further $148,000 for personal expenses. When asked where the money had gone, Burlace told his two insurance broker partners: "I didn't steal it, I only used it to fund my lifestyle".

Also, in September, Waimaria Theresa Whakarau, then 35, was convicted of 12 counts of dishonestly using a document to obtain a pecuniary advantage after she attempted to claim $6.9 million from the Inland Revenue Department.

The crime was described by Judge David Cameron as an "insidious type of fraud, really a fraud against all the taxpayers in New Zealand".

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

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

More than $23 million in benefit fraud was detected in the past financial year and 714 successful benefit fraud prosecutions 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 about 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 which 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.

Keep credit cards and identity numbers in a safe place. Do not divulge PIN numbers.

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

Be careful who you give personal information to, especially over the phone or internet.


Wanganui fraud convictions:

Obtain benefit by deception: 95 (2011/12), 112 (2010/11).

Forgery and counterfeiting: 2 (2011/12), 4 (2010/11).

Deceptive business/Government practices: 0 (2011/12), 0 (2010/11).

Other fraud and deception offences: 3 (2011/12), 8 (2010/11).

Total fraud convictions: 100 (2011/12), 124 (2010/11).

- Wanganui Chronicle

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