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Television Interview - Flashpoint WA

The Hon Bill Shorten MP

Would-be disaster fraudsters warned as crooks face the music

Minister for Government Services the Hon. Bill Shorten MP is warning would-be fraudsters they’ll be caught if they try to rip-off disaster payments this summer.

The warning comes with Services Australia’s pre-payment fraud checks already stopping more than 33,000 fake claims for disaster events since January 2022. 

These checks have stopped a whopping $33 million from landing into the hands of fraudsters.

“Payments like the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment are there to help those in genuine need after an emergency,” Minister Shorten said.

“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.

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

“But let me assure you, Services Australia has sophisticated detection measures in place to sniff out suspicious claims. 

“It’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ you’ll be caught.”

Recently, justice caught up with a Queensland man who went on the run after pleading guilty to defrauding more than $90,000 in disaster payments from the Commonwealth. The man is now serving the remainder of his 4-year prison sentence and has been ordered to repay the money. 

Minister Shorten commended Services Australia and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) for ensuring fraudsters don’t get to walk away from their crimes.

“There’s no slipping through the cracks here. Services Australia is working closely with the CDPP, as well as federal and state law enforcement, to see these matters through to the end,” Minister Shorten said.  

Since July 2019, more than 250 people have been convicted of disaster payment fraud. 

Minister Shorten said the prosecution outcomes speak for themselves.

“Many of these people have faced years in jail and have had to repay the money they fraudulently claimed,” Minister Shorten said. 

The extent of offending can vary, with some involving large sums of money acquired using stolen or fabricated identities, while others are one-off claims for bogus damage, providing fake or doctored images, or using a fake address. 

“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.”

Fraud prosecution case studies

Identify theft and fabrication

  • On 9 December 2022, a NSW man was sentenced to 3 years and 6 months imprisonment with a non-parole period of 2 years and 3 months. He used compromised and fabricated identities to claim 66 payments for the NSW and VIC bushfires in 2019. 
  • On 21 December 2023, a QLD man was sentenced in Brisbane after he used 17 compromised identities and 66 fabricated identities to fraudulently claim payments for the Far North QLD floods in February 2019. After being granted bail in 2020, the man failed to appear for sentencing in June 2021. He was located and arrested in Rockhampton in October 2023 and transferred to Brisbane for further sentencing.
  • On 25 July 2023, a QLD man was sentenced to 122 days imprisonment, served while in custody. He used 5 compromised identities to claim fraudulent payments for the NSW floods in March 2021. 

False claims

  • On 3 May 2023, a NSW man was sentenced to a Community Correction Order for 12 months and ordered to repay $1,000. He used a false document stating he was residing in a place he actually wasn’t for the NSW floods in March 2021.
  • On 2 September 2022, a NSW man received a suspended sentence of 9 months imprisonment. He used false images of damage to his property to claim fraudulent payments for the NSW floods in 2021. 
  • On 15 July 2022, a QLD man he was sentenced to two counts of 6 months imprisonment, released on a good behaviour bond for 18 months and had to repay $2,000. He used a false address and rental agreement to claim fraudulent payments for the Far North QLD floods in February 2019. 

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