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Crooks swap stick-ups for card crimes

Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 8:49 a.m.

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Forget Bonnie and Clyde-style hold-ups. Crooks are far more likely to turn their hand to benefit fraud and credit card rip-offs in today's increasingly cashless society.

Criminologist Greg Newbold says traditional crimes like burglary and theft have been steadily declining since the 1990s as home and vehicle security systems become more sophisticated and less hard cash changes hands.

Instead, criminals have taken to fraudulent crime with gusto, particularly credit card and identity fraud, with a record $23.4 million in benefit fraud detected last year.

Analysing the latest crime figures, Prof Newbold of the University of Canterbury says detection methods for this relatively new area of crime have vastly improved in recent years.

Reported fraud rose dramatically after 2008 but has stabilised over the last two years, and authorities expect figures to remain steady in the next 12 months.

The government is looking to introduce a tough new bill to help prevent, detect and catch welfare fraud, including a measure to prosecute the partners of beneficiaries who are convicted of fraud.

The legislation, presented by associate Social Development Minister Chester Borrows, will allow more information sharing between agencies and bring in more robust checks of beneficiaries who have previously been dishonest with the Ministry of Social Development.

Prof Newbold says benefit fraud figures remain trifling when compared with the scale of frauds perpetrated by the corporate sector.

In recent years, corporate crooks have been convicted of fraud-related crimes involving sums as high as $88 million, he says.

Tax evasion is also significant, with up to $5 billion in taxes going unpaid every year as a result of clever tax avoidance and evasion schemes.


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