Update from Roger Sutton, Chief Executive: 12 March 2012
After a major disaster, it is difficult to imagine anything as despicable, quite frankly, as vulnerable victims being preyed on by fraudsters who take money in the guise of being good Samaritans offering help.
Sadly, it is inevitable however that predators in our society, and professional scammers from overseas, will target innocent residents in greater Christchurch who can least afford to lose money. It is possible a few scammers are already here.
In one of many official studies in the United States following Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Administration on Aging, part of the Health and Human Services Department, found that people in the worst position to deal with the storm - especially older residents and the disabled - were often the main targets of financial scams and fraudulent contractors.
Last year, an independent agency of the federal government, The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), issued a set of guidelines called “Beware of Disaster-Related Financial Scams”, saying for example, “If you’re a disaster survivor, be careful before accepting unsolicited offers of repairs or other assistance. Deal only with licensed… home-repair contractors and get recommendations from people you know and trust”. Fraudsters used high-pressure tactics in forcing people to act quickly. The agency suggested checking up on unknown people who arrived with repair and advocacy offers and to “get prices and other key details in writing and take your time to read and understand anything you are asked to sign”.
While disaster-related scams such as those seen after Katrina may be new to New Zealand, the scams have similarities to others listed by our own Ministry of Consumer Affairs on its great webpage http://www.consumeraffairs.govt.nz/scams
Top of the Ministry’s list of the “human vulnerabilities” scammers rely on is the belief that “all companies and websites are legitimate”. Instead, the Ministry says, “They can be set up for the sole intent of scamming people then quickly shut down with no trace of the scammers, or your money. Don't trust companies or websites you don't know”. The webpage urges care with those who provide little information about themselves, such as only a post office box or email address. “If you are scammed, it will be very difficult to track down the scammer.”
According to the US FDIC, some scammers offer to “apply for aid you could request on your own for free”. The good news is that our Support and Assistance webpage (http://cera.govt.nz/support-and-assistance) gives a long list of such free services. They include our Earthquake Assistance Centre at Avondale and The Kaiapoi Earthquake Hub. Appointments can be made to the former at 0800 RING CERA (0800 7464 2372) and the latter at 0800 NEW 000 (0800 639 000).
The Canterbury Earthquake Temporary Accommodation Service (CETAS) at www.quakeaccommodation.govt.nz or 0800 673 227 can advise best options for temporary accommodation, the Earthquake Support and Counselling Line at 0800 777 846 can answer questions and connect you to other free help, while Earthquake Support Coordinators at 0800 777 846 can navigate people through a range of post-‘quake services.
On our webpage list is a useful new service giving free professional financial advice for residential red zone property owners, set up by the Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income. Details are at www.sorted.org.nz/redzone
Information residents give to advisors under this service is confidential and help sought in the one to one-and-a-half hour sessions could be vital in making good financial choices. A group of licensed local professional financial advisers from well-known and reputable organisations are involved and I’d like to commend them for volunteering time and skills at no charge.
While people should watch for scams they should also be assured fraudsters offering help will always be in the minority. Let’s celebrate the number of passionate and committed people and agencies giving voluntary and/or free help. It’s one of the most under-rated “big stories” about the recovery.
CanterburyEarthquake Recovery Authority