Deaf com­mu­nity warns about card sales scam

The Timaru Herald - - NATIONAL NEWS - Caro­line Wil­liams

A deaf or­gan­i­sa­tion has is­sued a scam warn­ing fol­low­ing re­ports of peo­ple pre­tend­ing to be deaf, and prof­it­ing from sell­ing un­of­fi­cial New Zealand Sign Lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion cards.

Deaf Ac­tion New Zealand posted pho­tos of the cards on so­cial me­dia with a warn­ing, which yielded many com­ments from peo­ple who had seen the cards be­ing sold, mostly by women.

Deaf Ac­tion NZ sec­re­tary Rachel No­ble said the cards were re­port­edly be­ing sold in Lower Hutt, Welling­ton and Auck­land but had no af­fil­i­a­tion with deaf or­gan­i­sa­tions and com­mu­ni­ties reg­is­tered with the Char­ity Com­mis­sion.

The cards in­cluded the NZ Sign Lan­guage al­pha­bet which ap­peared to have been copied from Deaf Aotearoa’s free ed­u­ca­tion re­sources.

They were be­ing sold for $5 and claimed to be ‘‘the voice of a group of deaf peo­ple’’.

‘‘I am deaf since the child­hood [sic],’’ a card read. ‘‘Our goal is to earn a liv­ing.’’

No­ble said the first time a deaf per­son raised con­cerns about the cards was in April last year but re­ports had es­ca­lated re­cently.

She said it seemed many had pur­chased the cards.

Money given to these peo­ple would not sup­port of­fi­cial deaf com­mu­ni­ties, most of which were vol­un­teer-op­er­ated groups, she said. ‘‘We are fu­ri­ous about what it is do­ing to our rep­u­ta­tion.

‘‘Some­thing needs to be done.’’

She said it was un­likely the sell­ers had paid tax on their earn­ings.

Deaf Aotearoa pres­i­dent Oliver Fer­gu­son said it had been con­tacted to ask if it was con­nected to the card-sell­ers.

He was dis­ap­pointed wellmean­ing peo­ple in shops and their work­places were be­ing tar­geted.

‘‘I am an­gry. This is a nui­sance. These peo­ple think they are do­nat­ing to a good cause.’’

De­spite the NZSL al­pha­bet chart on the cards be­ing Deaf Aotearoa’s re­sources, he said it had noth­ing to do with the sales.

‘‘In fact, we have re­sources – such as the al­pha­bet – freely ac­ces­si­ble through our web­site [Deaf Aotearoa].’’

Toni Te­tini was shop­ping at West­gate in west Auck­land when she was ap­proached by a woman sell­ing the cards. Te­tini was un­aware of the scam at the time and asked the woman how much the cards cost, ver­bally, be­fore re­mem­ber­ing that the woman’s card said she was deaf.

How­ever, when the woman re­sponded by point­ing to the price shown on the card, Te­tini be­came sus­pi­cious.

‘‘It took a minute for me to re­alise that this lady had just re­sponded to my ques­tion.

‘‘Once I did [re­alise], I couldn’t help but laugh.’’

Te­tini bought one of the cards so she could warn peo­ple on so­cial me­dia.

Lower Hutt cafe owner Claire Mathe­son said a woman had ap­proached her cus­tomers to see if they would pur­chase the cards.

Mathe­son, who hap­pens to be in­volved in her lo­cal deaf com­mu­ni­ties and is flu­ent in NZSL, ap­proached the woman and signed to her that it was in­ap­pro­pri­ate to go into a busi­ness with the in­ten­tion of sell­ing some­thing with­out ap­proach­ing the man­ager first.

Mathe­son said there was no ev­i­dence the woman was fak­ing her deaf­ness but she knew she wasn’t as­so­ci­ated with of­fi­cial deaf or­gan­i­sa­tions. She sus­pected that she could have been for­eign.

‘‘She def­i­nitely wasn’t a NZSL user from what she signed.’’

Mathe­son was sad­dened that some­one would un­der­mine the deaf com­mu­ni­ties, which worked hard to main­tain a good stan­dard of ed­u­ca­tion.

‘‘It’s the most up­set­ting thing know­ing our friends and cus­tomers are of­fended by what’s been hap­pen­ing.’’

A po­lice spokesper­son con­firmed the scam was re­ported on Fri­day.

Po­lice rec­om­mended any­one con­cerned about the scam visit the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion New Zealand web­site.

Deaf ed­u­ca­tion cards be­ing sold un­of­fi­cially have up­set the deaf com­mu­nity. The sell­ers first pro­duce an in­tro­duc­tion card, top, and then of­fer to sell the NZ Sign Lan­guage al­pha­bet card, bot­tom, for $5.

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