Blackmailed ACC client 'fobbed off'
A woman with brain damage was intimidated and blackmailed after ACC gave her medical information to the wrong person.
In the latest privacy blunder to emerge at the government agency, the man who received the file – including her phone number and address – then tried to extort money from her.
She is strongly critical of the Accident Compensation Corporation's failure to correct the privacy breach. "I am bloody angry with them; they just fobbed me off," she told The Dominion Post.
"He was reading stuff about me that I hadn't read ... He has all this information about how damaged I was and he's probably sitting down with a few cans of beer and showing my file to his mates."
The man repeatedly telephoned her, demanding money and threatening her, over eight months. But despite ACC promising to listen to voicemail messages left by the man, no-one did, the woman said.
ACC also refused her request that it pay to have her phone number changed, she said.
The Petone woman, 67, said the extortion attempts were "horrible, it was awful".
"He said he knew where I lived and said I had a nice face."
The blackmailer said the longer she took to come up with his initial demand of $50 to photocopy and return the file, "the more money you will have to pay".
She saved several phone messages and asked an ACC case manager to come and listen to them, "but she never came".
The blackmailer read portions from her file to her, including information about her injury that even she did not know.
She believes ACC did virtually nothing to retrieve the file – and that the blackmailer still has it.
His last call came in December 2010, when she said that if she ever met him to retrieve it, she would bring the police.
Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff has publicly told government agencies and businesses that they must act quickly whenever a privacy breach is discovered.
The Petone woman, a former nurse, suffered severe brain damage in a medical mishap. She nearly died when she had a severe reaction to an anaesthetic during surgery. She has since made significant progress recovering.
She approached The Dominion Post after reading that ACC had accused whistleblower Bronwyn Pullar of extortion, after Ms Pullar revealed a huge privacy blunder by ACC when she was wrongly sent more than 6000 files. The Petone woman said it was ironic ACC took only four days to go to police with its allegation against Ms Pullar – who denies any attempt at extortion – considering its response to her own case.
She told ACC the blackmailer said his name was "Brian or Byron". He indicated he lived in Petone.
After reporting the blackmail attempt to ACC, she asked the corporation to check its records to see if anyone with those names had requested his file around the time the blackmailing began.
ACC initially refused, saying it would be too hard, but then two weeks later agreed to the search and it turned up a blank.
ACC said that, without a surname or telephone number – which she would not give because the blackmailer had threatened her if she did – it could not trace the caller.
She did, however, give police the cellphone number he gave but, when a police officer dialled it, the phone was no longer in use.
ACC said yesterday that it became aware of the matter in April 2010, and it was subject to investigations by both ACC and police.
"It would be inappropriate for us to discuss the details of an individual client," a spokesman said.
"Further, matters of privacy are currently under investigation by the Office of the Auditor-General and the board of ACC, in conjunction with the privacy commissioner. These investigations are examining ACC's privacy processes and its governance."
Hutt Valley area commander Inspector Mike Hill said police were told only of the blackmailer's initial demand for $50 to photocopy the file, which did not meet the threshold of extortion. Had police been alerted to the escalated threats and demands reported to ACC, a more detailed investigation would have taken place, he said.
WHAT THE ACC FILES SAY:
April 16, 2010: ACC is informed the client was called by someone who had her file
April 20: "The man that has her documents wants money. She is very distressed about the whole file issues. She has been to Petone police, the man commented she had a nice face and warned her not to get smart with him, threatened physical violence." ACC said that, unless the man alerted ACC or the client "gives us more information, we cannot recover her file. She was displeased with this".
April 26: ACC tells client the demands for money amount to blackmail but it cannot do anything without knowing the man's identity.
April 28: Voice message from client saying she wants to play her message from the blackmailer with two words ("Fyou") to ACC, but "this is where the message ended".
May 19: ACC called client's doctor and "expressed concern over her latest letter. Her anxiety appears to be very high in relation to her fear of the man who has her file 'murdering her'."
May 25: ACC says while it was visiting the client, the police phoned her.
December 3: Client left voice message for ACC, saying she had voice messages from the man "and she wants me [her case manager] to come and listen to them".
The Dominion Post