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16 February 2023

Watch out for scams following Cyclone Gabrielle

Vigilance required after reports of scams following the Auckland floods.

Consumers should be on the lookout for scams in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle, following reports of individuals impersonating council workers after the Auckland floods.

Door scam

Auckland Council’s General Manager for Environmental Services, Rachel Kelleher, warned residents about people posing as council officials in the aftermath of the flooding which affected Auckland in January.

“There is a lot of goodwill and generosity in the community but there have been reports of scams and people posing as officials,” she said.

Kelleher said that “if you are interacting with people coming in the vein of insurance, or assessing a property for damage, just check that they have the right identification for the work that they’re proposing they’ll do”.

She said the warning came as council staff had “concerns about people possibly scoping out properties wearing some level of official attire that may not be legitimate”.

Speaking to Consumer, a spokesperson for Auckland Council said they are yet to see evidence of these scams following Cyclone Gabrielle and do not want to unnecessarily alarm the public. However, the precedent of the Auckland floods, and international experience of environmental disasters, show that consumers should remain vigilant.

What to watch out for

In addition to the impersonation of council staff, the Insurance Fraud Bureau New Zealand (IFB) has outlined common criminal activities that often emerge in the wake of disasters.

People posing as repairers

Contract and vendor fraud occurs when individuals pose as contractors or repair services but have no intention of repairing or completing the job.

If someone knocks on your door to offer a service, Consumer Protection recommends:

  • Having them wait outside while you call their company or employer. If you can, look up the official telephone number or e-mail address online and use that to make contact. Don’t call a number they give you.
  • Ask the person to leave their information and return next week. This gives you time to research and consider their offer – and to shop around – with less pressure. This step will also give you time to look for online feedback about the company providing the service.
  • If someone is asking for a payment up front, be cautious. This is a common characteristic of a scam. Legitimate businesses don’t do this.

If you do need work done, the New Zealand Certified Builder’s Association (NZCBA) has a useful tool on its website to find certified builders in your area. NZCBA members must uphold standards of stability and success, financial solvency, and an absence of complaints by customers and suppliers.

Charitable solicitations

There are a range of ways in which individuals can use charity to take advantage of disaster, whether by collecting cash and keeping it for personal use, impersonating charity workers, or by using charity as a front for gathering personal information.

The Citizens Advice Bureau warns consumers to be suspicious of charity donations collectors that go door to door, particularly if they are not wearing clothing or other items that identify them as such.

There are new rules for door-to-door salespeople and traders. It’s now illegal to ignore a ‘Do Not Knock’ sticker, and traders can be fined up to $30,000 for ignoring them. If you don’t have a sticker, but have told a seller to stay away, they must do so for two years. Consumer members can get a ‘Do Not Knock’ sticker by filling out our form. Non-members can get one from any Resene ColorShop or store that sells Resene paint. If a trader persists, call the police on 105.

Things can be more tricky online, where scammers can create realistic looking websites or e-mails that appear to be from genuine charities. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) says that these scams commonly follow natural disasters such as cyclones.

To protect yourself from one of these scams, the ACCC recommends:

  • Approaching charitable organisations directly to make a donation.
  • Check an organisation’s name and look them up. You can look up charities in New Zealand on the Charities Register.
  • Check the website address of the page on which you are making a donation to ensure that it is the legitimate webpage of the organisation you are donating to. A fake website may look almost identical to a legitimate charity site, changing only the details of where to send donations.
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