Man with Asperger's left broke, suicidal

EMMA HORSLEY
Last updated 13:42 26/10/2012

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A man with Asperger's syndrome had his credit card and bank account drained of thousands of dollars in what his family believe was a prolonged, systematic, and aggressive sales technique that left him broke and suicidal.

The 55-year-old Hawke's Bay man was visiting family this month when he went into The Plaza in Palmerston North and was approached by a sales assistant from Dead Sea skincare company Premier Skin Care.

His family said an hour later the man had spent $6232 on skincare and cosmetics but, because of his condition, was unaware of exactly how much money he had handed over or what he had bought.

The man's sister said the family wished to remain anonymous because of her brother's fragile mental health.

"The impact this has had on our family is huge. We've got him into counselling. He's not a depressed person normally but this has spun him out of control.

"He has talked about suicide since this happened and I'm scared he would go over the edge if he thought anyone else knew," his sister said.

She believed the saleswoman would have known her brother was intellectually compromised and took advantage of the situation.

She said her brother would not have thought anything bad was happening "because he doesn't think like that".

The family was unaware of what had happened until a representative from Westpac bank phoned the man's mother to alert her to some unusual activity on his accounts.

It was then they realised the skincare company had systematically processed 17 transactions of various amounts until there was no money left in the man's accounts.

According to bank records viewed by the Manawatu Standard, seven transactions were declined during an eight-minute period but, the man's sister said, the company kept swiping his card until it was accepted.

"Yes he had to allow them to do it and he was using his own pin number but he really would not have understood what he was doing."

She said her husband returned the goods immediately once the situation had been discovered only to be told initially that the business had a no-refunds policy.

"It was only when he got angry that they agreed to refund the money and we realised just how much money was involved."

She said The Plaza management had been "fantastic" and were horrified about the incident. Plaza manager Andrew Heaphy was unavailable to comment.

Arik Goldberg from Dead Sea Beauty told the Standard he believed the company had behaved in a "very professional" manner by refunding the money and would not comment on whether the saleswoman was still working for them. "I don't think that has anything to do with it," he said.

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Mr Goldberg would not comment on whether any extra training had been given to staff on dealing with intellectually compromised people or whether staff used aggressive selling techniques.

Consumer NZ confirmed it had received complaints about Premier Skin Care and said people should walk away if they felt they were being subjected to high-pressure selling tactics.

"I advise the public to steer clear. We have had regular complaints [about Premier Skin Care] and if people feel they are being harassed they need to complain to mall management," said spokeswoman Jessica Wilson.

The man's sister said it had been a lesson to the family that her brother needed more supervision. "He's been taken advantage of and we don't want this to happen to anyone else. It's morally wrong."

- Manawatu Standard

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