Man charged with dishonestly claiming disaster recovery payments

This is a joint media release between the Australian Federal Police and Services Australia.

A 50-year-old Tuncurry man has been charged with allegedly fraudulently obtaining Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payments (AGDRP) he was not entitled to and dishonestly influencing Services Australia public officials related to the NSW Bushfires.

In November 2019, Services Australia received information from concerned community members advising that the man was allegedly receiving payments and benefits from members of the public not adversely affected by the bushfires, and making claims on their behalf to assist them in receiving disaster recovery payments.

Services Australia commenced an investigation into the man’s alleged activities.

In January 2020, Services Australia sought assistance from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) regarding their investigation. 

On Wednesday (5 February 2020), AFP officers and NSW Police officers, in the company of Services Australia investigators, executed a search warrant at the man’s residence in Tuncurry, NSW.

The following day (6 February 2020), AFP officers, with assistance from NSW Police, arrested the man after information was received he was allegedly threatening potential witnesses.

Police will allege in court that the man was assisting members of the public to fraudulently obtain $1000 benefit payments by calling the hotline on their behalf.

He was charged with:

  • Six counts of obtaining a financial advantage by deception contrary to section 134.2(1) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), which has a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.
  • One count of influencing a Commonwealth public official contrary to section 135.1(7) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), which has a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.

Services Australia General Manager Hank Jongen said since September 2019, over $90 million dollars in Australian Government Disaster Relief Payments were paid to Australians who have been affected by the bushfires.

“Over 1500 tip-offs of suspected fraud have been received by Services Australia and 43 criminal investigations have been referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.”

“Services Australia is committed to delivering payments to those genuinely affected by the bushfires. The highly skilled investigators, digital forensics and fraud detection programs within Services Australia will continue to proactively identify fraudulent claims,” said Mr Jongen.

AFP Commander Eastern Region Investigation Kirsty Schofield said the AFP is committed to working closely with government agencies to identify people taking advantage of schemes designed to help vulnerable communities in a time of need.

“This arrest should serve as a reminder to those planning to take advantage of those programs in place to help Australians during these difficult times. This criminal activity will not be taken lightly, especially when it takes time, effort and money away from programs set up to help people at a traumatic time in their lives,” Cmdr. Schofield said.

The man has been remanded in custody to appear in court on Tuesday, 7 April 2020. 

Suspected welfare fraud can be reported via the “Reporting Fraud” page on the Services Australia website at servicesaustralia.gov.au/fraud, or by calling the Australian Government Services Fraud Tip-off Line on 13 15 24.

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