Scammer tries to cash credits
A grocery chain has issued warnings to staff after claims beneficiaries are trying to swap their state-issued food credits for cash.
Mother of four Antillea Karaitiana, 28, says she was approached by a stranger in Pak 'n Save Mill St last week looking to trade his Work and Income payment card for cash "to go clubbing".
She said the man, in his late teens or early 20s, showed her a greenish electronic transaction card he said had $80 credit.
He allegedly told her she could have the card for $70 cash, keeping $10 for her trouble.
He indicated he could go to the checkout with her and sign for the goods, with her paying him outside.
"I just looked at him, shocked, and went, no". She then walked off."
The Ministry of Social Development did not answer media questions on how many similar incidents had been reported or investigated or how many cards were in circulation but said it was up to retailers to check signatures when they were used.
Foodstuffs Auckland which covers every Pak 'n Save or New World store north of Hawke's Bay has since issued a warning for staff to be vigilant.
General manager Rob Chemaly said:
"If we did see someone approaching our customers to barter money for groceries, they would be immediately removed from the store by security."
"It is our company policy when benefit cards are presented at the check-out to check photo ID and the benefit card in order to deter this kind of behaviour. We have also sent a reminder notice to all our stores to be vigilant with this policy."
Pak 'n Save Mill St owner, Hamish Walton, had not heard of the scam, but said it was impossible for the store to act if customers didn't alert staff.
The cards made life more convenient for beneficiaries, according to NZ Federation of Family budgeting chief executive Raewyn Fox, but people ripping them off gave the vast majority of honest and needy beneficiaries a bad name.
"People who do odd things like that make things look bad for 99 per cent of the people who genuinely have that need and do it right," she said.
"It's a lifesaver for them and that's great. So I get angry about people who stuff it up for them and make them look bad."
Karaitiana agreed, saying she was angry because the man's actions perpetuated the negative stereotype of beneficiaries, namely that they use state funds to buy drugs, alcohol or other luxuries.
"I thought that was a perfect example of where people get that stigma from.
"I know people who are genuinely on the benefit and are struggling every day doing all the right things, but they're still struggling."
Family First national director Bob McCoskrie said Work and Income had to be accountable and shut down any loopholes that may exist around payment cards.
There's an expectation that state assistance should be directed towards the need, whatever it may be.
"I'd be sorry to see kids who miss out on food because the card's been used for drugs and alcohol or clubbing or whatever the alternative might be.
"There's always going to be people who try to gain out of the state's generosity. I think most beneficiaries won't be doing this so hopefully it's the exception."
In a statement, Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner, Te Rehia Papesch, said misuse of payment cards is a serious matter and it would investigate reports of misuse.
HOW THE CARD WORKS
Pre-loaded debit card Issued first time a beneficiary gets food or hardship grant. Cards to be used at designated retailers Can not be used to buy alcohol, tobacco, appliances or electronics The amount that can be loaded onto a card depends on person's entitlement to support.