More than 1000 people congregated in Auckland's Aotea Square at noon on Saturday after The Safety Warehouse announced a $100,000 cash drop event, held to thank New Zealanders for their support during the country's COVID-19 outbreaks.
Yet it soon transpired that the notes were actually vouchers, disguised as $5 bills. Chaos quickly ensued as people tussled over the fake money, leading to violence and a number of injuries.
Yet the owner of The Safety Warehouse, Andrew Thorn, has defended the stunt, arguing that $100,000 had been given away.
The event has faced significant backlash, with outraged attendee John Murphy - who had hoped the cash drop would be the highlight of his Auckland trip - claiming the company had duped members of the public, many of whom were from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Murphy has since started a Change.org petition, urging The Safety Warehouse to convert its vouchers into real cash - a call which has already been signed by more than 360 people.
"Myself along with others expected REAL CASH to be thrown into the crowds NOT fake useless vouchers that probably 99 percent of people there can't or never would use," Murphy wrote.
"This petition demands that The Safety Warehouse NZ do the right thing and give all participants the REAL CASH for [their] USELESS notes."
Murphy also plans to file a complaint with the police, according to the New Zealand Herald, in the hopes that authorities will investigate and declare the vouchers counterfeit notes.
Massey University marketing professor Malcolm Wright told Radio New Zealand that the scheme - possibly oversold by an employee - had breached customers' trust.
"I don't think they would have been setting out to deceive, of course they wouldn't have been setting out to deceive. Somebody just oversold it and went a bit far," he told the outlet.
Angered attendees have shared their ire towards the company on Murphy's petition, with one woman writing: "Wasted my petrol, time and money used on [parking]. I could have spent that day doing something more productive!"
"This isn't right and has clearly been done with the intention to mislead," wrote another.
"I was at the event and fought tooth and claw to get my share of the supposed money drop only [to] receive $115 worth of fake 5s," said another attendee.
Green MP Ricardo Menendez March has also slammed the event, tweeting on Saturday: "Absolutely disgusted with The Safety Warehouse for throwing a $100K cash giveaway and then throwing fake money in the mix. People in need from across the region gathered, clearly hoping their hardship would be alleviated. There was a lot of upset and the situation became unsafe.
"Some took time off work hoping to come here. When people found out they were receiving fake money things got very unsafe, there were children and elderly in the crowd. This is a stink thing to do, particularly in times of economic hardship & unemployment."