‘Ac­ci­dent’ cash plea prompts sus­pi­cion

Mys­tery ap­peal highlights risks to donors, write He­len King and Jac­ques Steenkamp.

Sunday Star-Times - - News -

South African ex­pats been asked to do­nate cash to the vic­tims of a tragic car crash – but there is no ev­i­dence the ac­ci­dent hap­pened.

Ac­cord­ing to a Face­book post, a South African fam­ily were driv­ing from the Coro­man­del to Auck­land on Labour Week­end, when their camper­van was struck by a stone thrown from an over­pass.

The poster claimed both par­ents were in­jured and flown to hos­pi­tal in Auck­land while their twin tod­dlers were left with no one to care for them.

The post pleaded for money to cover the costs of fly­ing their grand­mother to New Zealand.

How­ever, de­tailed in­quiries to emer­gency ser­vices and hos­pi­tals found no ev­i­dence any such crash oc­curred.

This week­end, po­lice ad­vised cau­tion to any­one con­sid­er­ing do­nat­ing to causes on­line, par­tic­u­larly through so­cial me­dia pages.

’’Posts are not al­ways gen­uine and with­out be­ing able to ver­ify in­di­vid­u­als’ iden­tity, do­nat­ing money comes with risk.’’

The post claims a cou­ple called Odette and Richard along with their twins were in­volved in a se­ri­ous ac­ci­dent as they re­turned from a hol­i­day on the Coro­man­del at Labour Week­end.

The cou­ple were air­lifted to Auck­land Hos­pi­tal, it says, where Odette was in an in­duced coma and Richard had se­ri­ous in­juries.

There has been a re­cent spate of rocks be­ing thrown from Auck­land mo­tor­way over­bridges but none that matches this in­ci­dent.

Some of the 16,000 mem­bers of the Face­book page for South African ex­pats be­gan ques­tion­ing why the in­ci­dent was not re­ported in the me­dia.

‘‘I can­not un­der­stand that noth­ing of this was on the news or can be found any­where?’’ one Welling­ton woman asked.

‘‘If some­thing as in­signif­i­cant as a truck hold­ing up traf­fic at the end of a long week­end is news­wor­thy, so should this be.’’

But the ad­min­is­tra­tor stopped her from ask­ing ques­tions and threat­ened her with le­gal ac­tion, she said.

It isn’t the first time a post has been made on this Face­book page de­scrib­ing sce­nar­ios where a cou­ple needed fi­nan­cial help.

In Septem­ber, an ap­peal was made for money for a South African cou­ple and claim­ing the wife had been de­frauded of money in Dubai Air­port.

In Au­gust, an ap­peal went out for money to help a South African man who was be­hind in his rent. The same per­son has made all three ap­peals.

Po­lice say no crash fit­ting the de­scrip­tion oc­curred on Labour Day.

Auck­land City Hos­pi­tal con­firmed it has no pa­tients in its head in­jury unit by the name of Odette. Nei­ther does Mid­dle­more Hos­pi­tal.

The West­pac res­cue he­li­copter did not at­tend a crash that re­quired two pa­tients to be air­lifted to hos­pi­tal ei­ther.

How­ever, the ad­min­is­tra­tor of the page who wrote the post is adamant the crash did oc­cur.

The ad­min­is­tra­tor later up­dated the orig­i­nal post to thank ev­ery­one who do­nated money and to in­form them that ‘‘the ticket has been paid for from dona­tions we re­ceived from ... mem­bers’’.

Yes­ter­day, af­ter at­tempts to con­tact the Face­book page ad­min­is­tra­tors, the page was frozen with a fi­nal post stat­ing ‘‘we have rea­son to be­lieve the ... fo­rum has been hacked’’.

The ad­min said they had tem­po­rar­ily archived the page so that an al­leged ‘‘virus’’ did not spread.

The ad­min­is­tra­tor even­tu­ally re­sponded, say­ing he couldn’t dis­close any in­for­ma­tion as the ‘‘con­fi­den­tial na­ture of as­sis­tance to group mem­bers’’ would be jeop­ar­dised.

Po­lice say re­ports of sus­pi­cious be­hav­iour, which may in­cluded fraud­u­lent re­quests for money, should be di­rected to a lo­cal po­lice sta­tion.

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