Scammers unleash sob stories on shoppers

Pseudo-beggars are targeting Christchurch shoppers with sob stories and some are spending their takings on booze.

People have been approached outside Westfield Riccarton, Northlands Mall, South City Centre, Eastgate Shopping Centre, Re:Start Mall and Woolston shops.

South City Centre manager Geoff Barnett said there were about half a dozen regulars who tried all sorts of stories on people in the centre's car park.

"It goes in cycles and right now we're experiencing more than we did say six months ago," he said.

It did not seem to be related to genuine hardship but rather "kids thinking that it's a bit of fun and some easy money".

Re:Start Mall manager Paul Wilkinson-Baker said people often claimed they needed money for a bus fare to an out-of-town place or because they had locked their keys - and sometimes their kids - inside a vehicle.

"Sometimes they turn up with product and try to sell it to tourists. They have had iPods or iPhone covers. One turned up the other day with a food mixer. Our feeling is they may have been stolen."

Wilkinson-Baker aid Re:Start Mall had also experienced a definite rise in "straight begging" in the last month. Homeless people sat in retailers' doorways holding cups or hats and sometimes asked for food.

"Some people are desperate and some are just trying it on."

In Woolston, a staff member who did not want to be named said a young woman often asked people for money for a bus fare home, while hanging out in a car park outside the shop.

"She actually goes and spends the money people give her in a bottle store. She comes back drinking big cans of Woodstock in the car park."

It's not only a problem at malls or outside shops, either, with reports of people claiming to be from a New Brighton community group going door to door asking for money.

A spokeswoman for the New Brighton Project, Martha Baxendell, said a woman had approached people in Linwood, New Brighton, Phillipstown and Avondale. "The areas that she has been collecting in have been as far away as Riccarton and as close as Oram Ave - right in our backyard," she said.

The New Brighton Project, which has been around since 1994, does not fundraise by door-to-door collection, and recently found out this had been happening since December.

"We just feel really upset that the same people that are trying to support our organisation are the people being hit or taken advantage of in our name."

Christchurch police response manager Inspector Derek Erasmus said while begging in itself was not illegal, "if people are asking for money under false pretences - asking for money for one purpose, but using it for another - then it may potentially be fraudulent.

"People can, and have been, prosecuted for this in the past," Erasmus said.

Property owners in malls or other commercial premises had the power to trespass people, however, "it is more difficult to police this type of activity . . . in a public place".

The Press