Minister issued warning against disaster relief fraudsters: ‘You'll get caught’

In the wake of natural disasters, the Australian government steps in to provide much-needed financial aid to those affected.

However, this system of support has become a target for fraudsters, with over 33,000 scammers attempting to claim a staggering $33 million of the government's disaster recovery payments since January 2022.

Services Australia, the government agency responsible for delivering social, health, and other payments and services, has been vigilant in its efforts to prevent these fraudulent claims.

The agency’s fraud checks stopped payments from reaching the hands of opportunistic criminals.

Disaster relief payments have become a target of potential fraudsters. Credit: Freepik

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten sternly warned those considering exploiting the system, stating that the disaster payments are intended for those genuinely in need following an emergency.

'The vast majority of people who submit claims are honest and are in urgent need of help. But unfortunately, in every disaster, we see both organised and opportunistic crooks trying to take advantage of other people's misfortune,' he said.

‘They think fake disaster claims will fly under the radar because Services Australia is, quite rightly, focussed on delivering support payments quickly.’

Shorten assured that there are measures in place to detect and stop fraudsters.

'It's not a question of “if” but “when” you'll be caught,' he warned.

According to the Ministers for the Department of Social Services, more than 250 people have been convicted of disaster payment fraud since July 2019.

These fraudulent activities range from large-scale operations using stolen or fabricated identities to smaller, one-off claims for bogus damage, providing fake or doctored images, or using a fake address.

In one recent case, a man was sentenced after pleading guilty to using 17 stolen identities and 66 fake identities to fraudulently claim payments for the Far North Queensland floods in February 2019.

After attempting to evade authorities, he is now serving the remainder of his four-year prison sentence and has been ordered to repay the money.

In another incident, a Queensland man was sentenced to 122 days imprisonment after using five stolen identities to claim fake payments for the NSW floods in March 2021.

There were also charity fraudsters who set up fake fundraisers to steal donations intended for the victims of the bushfire in Mariginup on Perth’s northern fringe last November.

'Heartless scammers are known to capitalise on the vulnerable by pretending to raise money via fake websites and social media posts,' Consumer Protection Commissioner Trish Blake said.

With these incidents, Shorten said, 'Many of these people have faced years in jail and have had to repay the money they fraudulently claimed.’

The Minister's message to potential fraudsters was clear: 'Whether you're an organised criminal taking the taxpayer for a ride or an opportunist who sees a natural disaster as a chance for some quick cash, we're making sure you don't get away with it.

‘You'll get caught, and you will face serious consequences.'

If you suspect you have been targeted by a disaster relief scam, report it to the authorities immediately or to Scamwatch here.

This can help prevent others from falling victim to the same scam and aid in the investigation and prosecution of the fraudsters.

You may also check our Scam Watch forum to be updated with the latest scams.
Key Takeaways
  • Services Australia has thwarted over 33,000 fraudulent attempts to claim disaster recovery payments totalling $33 million since January 2022.
  • Government Services Minister Bill Shorten warned that while most claimants are honest, there are organised and opportunistic criminals attempting to exploit the system.
  • Measures are in place to detect and prevent this kind of fraud, with Shorten assuring that fraudsters will be caught.
  • Convictions have been made with some fraudsters receiving prison sentences and orders to repay the money they fraudulently obtained.
Have you or someone you know been affected by disaster relief fraud? Share your experiences and tips for staying safe in the comments below.
Despite Bill Shorten's warnings, it seems that only a small proportion of the scammers get caught, and it costs thousands of dollars to track them down, so the odds for a scammer are still pretty good.
A few years in the army with a hard drill seargent would sort them out. Same for the youth crime. Teach them what being tuff really is. Wouldn't take long before they come crying to mummy.

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