5 Nov 2018

SuperGold Card being used to defraud businesses

9:40 am on 5 November 2018

Teenagers aren't the only ones using fake IDs to appear a little older.

From 1 July Supergold cardholders will have to get a $10 AT HOP travel card, with their free travel entitlement embedded in it, and electronically swipe it on each trip.

Elderly advocacy groups have raised concerns about gold card fraud with the government. Photo: 123RF

The SuperGold Card is being used as a near risk-free form of fraud by people who aren't yet eligible for superannuation.

They are stealing or borrowing cards from people who are eligible, or, in rare cases, having fake cards made.

RNZ has learned of at least one person with a counterfeit card in the Wellington region. Fake cards are also understood to have been made and distributed in Auckland.

Gold card fraud is a problem that the Ministry of Social Development is aware of, but they have no way of knowing the extent of the issue.

According to information released through the Official Information Act, the Ministry of Social Development had been informed of three cases of gold card fraud dating back to 2012.

The ministry admits it does not know the real level of gold card fraud.

In a seven-page report entitled 'SuperGold Card fraud prevention strategies' published on 18 May 2016, it said "SGC use is not traceable. Therefore, fraud is very difficult to identify".

"Reports of fraud have been anecdotal in nature."

Even in the cases the ministry had been alerted to, there was no way of proving fraud because of the way the cards are given out.

Between December 2013 and October 2014, a man in Otago racked up $800 of free travel using another person's gold card.

However, the report stated that "the onus on proving fraud sits with the Ministry".

"There is no application process for the client to get a SuperGold Card. Cards are issued automatically," the document reads.

"This means that there is no written evidence to confirm that when issued with the card [redacted] knew it could not be lent or given to any other person.

"The Ministry would need to prove that one or both parties knowingly misused the card and fully understood the conditions of use of the card."

Gold card users rarely asked for ID

Supergold card, gold card, generic

The SuperGold Card is being used as a near risk-free form of fraud by people who aren't yet eligible for superannuation. Photo: RNZ / Hamish Cardwell

As of June 2018, there were 733,088 gold cards in circulation.

The current version of the gold card has no identifying features other than the user's name.

Most of the time the name on the card is not checked or questioned and additional identification is not requested.

There is an element of trust between businesses and gold card users which is being exploited.

The ministry said 95 percent of SuperGold cards are issued when a person successfully applies for New Zealand superannuation or the Veteran's Pension.

In some cases, people can apply for a SuperGold card in other circumstances, like when their partner is eligible for a card and their joint earnings are below a certain level.

The youngest person in New Zealand with a legitimate gold card is in their 20s.

Bus drivers and train conductors can ask a gold card user for identification, but it's extremely rare for that to happen.

Grey Power president Mac Welch said he had never been asked for identification when using his gold card.

'Gold cards need to be protected' - Grey Power

Grey Power and other elderly advocacy groups have raised concerns about gold card fraud with the government.

Their national treasurer, Roy Reid, was part of a delegation talking to the previous government about the gold card, and their concerns about cases of fraud.

"Grey Power has been pushing for a number of years to have a person's photograph on the gold card so that it then becomes a legal form of identification," Mr Reid said.

"We're concerned that if the gold card is stolen, it can be used by the person that steals it, or in some cases, sadly, a family member will take an older person's gold card and use it.

"Especially today, when there are discounts on petrol, these gold cards need to be protected."

Mr Reid said the cards offer no proof of identity for someone using it.

"They do scan the card, but there's no identification for the owner," he said.

"If you're in a town where there is a bus service - I quite often use my gold card in Wellington - you just show your gold card and that's it. You've got a free ride."

That was the concern of Auckland Transport prior to 2016.

They had heard reports of people using borrowed, stolen or fake gold cards to access free public transport.

"Prior to putting people on the HOP card, what we actually did was we just accepted the gold card as their boarding pass basically," AT public transport service delivery manager Colin Homan said.

"They were issued a ticket based on showing their gold card."

That did not sit well with the organisation, given there was no identification on the card, so they introduced a special HOP card for gold card users, which required them to prove their identity to acquire the card.

"We had some concerns that the way the system worked lent itself to be able to be defrauded," Mr Homan said.

"In fact, if I'm not mistaken, we might have even intercepted [a fake gold card]."

Ministry of Social Development group general manager community, partnerships and programmes, Marama Edwards said they have little evidence of gold card fraud.

"We've got around 730,000 senior citizens who enjoy the benefits of the SuperGold Card," Ms Edwards said.

"As we all know that's a recognition of their contribution to society over the years.

"In terms of fraud, we've got very little evidence of fraud and actually only a handful of cases that have been raised with us directly."

Ms Edwards said the onus was on card owners and retailers to ensure fraud did not happen.

"If they're concerned about any fraudulent activity or suspicions, they can raise those directly with the ministry and we'll go through an investigation process."

That process has only happened three times since 2012.

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