Fake notes from Auckland cash drop used at Hamilton bar - businessman

A Hamilton businessman says fake money thrown to crowds in Auckland over the weekend has been used at one of his establishments.

Work gear company The Safety Warehouse hosted a promotional 'cash drop' event on Saturday where crowds expected $100,000 would be dispersed. Few attendees reported seeing real money, with most instead receiving discount vouchers that looked like $5 notes.

The event turned to chaos with crowds throwing bottles at Safety Warehouse staff and people being pushed to the ground.

While The Safety Warehouse says real funds were given away, the event has been widely panned, including by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who said it "caused harm" and that the company should apologise. 

There's now concern some of the fake $5 notes are being used at businesses.

Hamilton's John Lawrenson, the chief executive of the Lawrenson Group, says $20-worth of notes from the event were used at his Outback Inn on Saturday night. 

"We didn't even notice until the end of the night when the manager was counting up the tills and just noticed that some of the $5 notes were slightly different from the others, and as it turned out, the money from the cash dump had managed to make its way down to Hamilton and had been used to buy a few drinks," he told Newshub.

"At first, I kinda was a little amused. The amount of money was obviously relatively immaterial in the grand scheme of things. I sent it off to a few people as a bit of a laugh."

But he understands why attendees of the event are upset, acknowledging the COVID-19 pandemic has hit many hard and the chance to receive free money would have been tempting. 

Lawrenson said the drop was in "pretty poor taste" and hopes organisers give more thought to their actions in the future. 

The business owner also doesn't believe just his establishment may have been affected.

"[The $5 notes] are quite similar and I can certainly see how on a dark night in the middle of a busy shift that bartenders would make the mistake that has been made here," he said.

"I would like to think that my team weren't the only ones that were duped in this way. Obviously, being in Hamilton, we are some way from where the cash dump took place. I can only imagine that there were a few other bars especially, and others businesses that are quite rapid service businesses that might have been similarly affected."

The Reserve Bank on Monday told Newshub publishing anything that looks like a genuine bank note or could be mistaken for the real thing may be against the law. 

On Sunday, The Safety Warehouse released a three-page statement saying the cash drop had been "unfairly characterised as an event with fake money" and stressed "real funds were given away as anticipated". 

"The vouchers that were also presented at the event were in addition to the cash that was given away. We never could have expected the inclusion of the vouchers would have created such hostility and a misunderstood narrative."

It said the actions of a small group ruined the "family-friendly" event for others and that there was no "intent to deprive, mislead or embarrass" anyone. 

"The Safety Warehouse stands by our marketing and what was issued at the event."

One attendee has started a change.org petition asking The Safety Warehouse to exchange the vouchers for real cash.