Hamilton link to suspected air-ticket scam

NICOLA BRENNAN-TUPARA
Last updated 05:00 05/07/2012

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A Hamilton woman has been linked to a suspected scam where about 100 Tongans were duped out of $250 each.

They were promised return flights to their home country that never existed.

The scam was uncovered when the buyers arrived at Auckland airport last week to collect the non-existent airline tickets.

The case is now being investigated by Waikato police.They said yesterday 15 people in the Waikato had made complaints to them. However, they were aware of many more in Auckland and others in Wellington and the South Island being duped.

Last night, the woman who allegedly sold the tickets told Campbell Live the people would get their money back.

Seini Vea said she was working with her lawyer to do so – although she would not reveal who the lawyer was, or where the money was.

She would not say why she sold the non-existent flights at that price.

"That's what I was told," she said. "It wasn't me that was offering it. It's the guy who told me that."

However, she would not reveal who "the guy" was.

Hamilton immigration consultant Hema Parekh said these types of scams were not unusual, even among licensed agents.

Ms Parekh, managing director of Destination NZ, advised "vulnerable" migrants to stay clear of car-boot advisers who asked to meet out of business hours and away from an office.

Ms Parekh did not think migrant community members were easy targets, but rather they were vulnerable to prey because they wanted to stay in New Zealand so much. "There are dodgy agents, but the Immigration Advisers' Authority is doing a great job trying to eliminate them."

Acting Detective Senior Sergeant Andy Bu Bear, of Hamilton, said all too often people who were the most vulnerable, and could least afford it, were the ones singled out by scammers.

"If something doesn't appear right, it probably isn't and in situations such as this we recommend people use the services of reputable travel agents, air lines or service providers," he said.

The airline ticket scam was the latest in a long-running string of fraudulent activities targeting the Tongan community – particularly overstayers.

Immigration New Zealand spokesman Dean Blakemore said it was concerning to hear of the scams and though his staff were committed to helping those targeted "get favourable outcomes", he couldthat not guarantee those who came forward would be allowed to stay in New Zealand.

"But without a complaint, we can't have an investigation."

Waikato police want anyone who bought tickets to contact them on 07 858 6200 or anonymously on Crimestoppers 0800 555 111.

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- Waikato Times

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