Flood-damaged homes targeted by fraudsters for government relief payments

A family affected by the Maribyrnong River floods says fraudsters made six applications for flood relief payments at their address, which meant the owner and his 93-year-old mother were unable to apply for the assistance. The state government confirmed it had noticed suspected bogus applications for the payment for some houses.

Oakland Street resident Stan Gradski and his elderly mother, Janina, live about 100 metres from the river’s edge in the north-west Melbourne neighbourhood. When the river swelled last Friday, Gradski said floodwater reached chin-height in their home of 48 years, destroying countless belongings.

Stan Gradski, with mother Janina, after their address had already been used to apply for flood relief payments.Credit:Justin McManus

He said his daughter tried to apply numerous times for the Victorian government’s one-off $580 relief payment on his and his mother’s behalf, but the system kept rejecting the application.

Gradski said he then went to the Maribyrnong relief centre on Wednesday and, after clearing up initial suspicions he might be a fraudster, staff told him there had already been six different payment applications for his address, including some using different names.

He said he was too tired to be angry.

“Society has those types of people,” he said.

Pointing to all the support in the form of food and drink drop-offs and kind notes, he added: “All the good people override that nonsense. If you don’t believe in angels, I’m telling you, they’re around here.”

After getting support to complete his payment application, Gradski was relieved he would receive the funds soon.

“It’ll come in handy because we went and bought a washing machine yesterday so we can wash our clothes,” he said.

He encouraged other flood victims having difficulty submitting applications to visit their local relief centre. “We tried many, many times, and it’s just wasting your time.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing said the department was aware of a small number of suspected fraudulent relief payment applications.

“Reports of people making fraudulent applications for emergency payments are incredibly disappointing,” the spokesperson said. “It diverts resources away from this critical support for communities who need it most.”

The state government has paid out more than $5.1 million in emergency relief assistance. People who apply for relief payments must provide identification showing proof of residence.

The department is referring all suspected fraud to police. Victoria Police declined to comment.

Maribyrnong has also been targeted by looters in the past week.

On Thursday, police charged a 26-year-old Sunshine West man with 12 counts of burglary and other offences, after a family was allegedly robbed of about $15,000 worth of possessions on Monday. A 33-year-old man, also from Sunshine West, is expected to be charged with deception offences.

In a separate incident, another man alleged he was robbed of at least one $400 tool.

Services Australia is administering the Commonwealth’s one-off relief payment of $1000 per adult. The agency’s general manager, Hank Jongen, said robust measures were in place to protect people.

“This includes specialist investigative teams and sophisticated real-time programs that flag claims at risk of potential fraud,” Jongen said.

“All claims flagged as suspicious are assessed by specialist staff to ensure fraud is prevented without denying genuinely eligible customers of payments.”

Earlier this year, the floods in NSW and Queensland became a target for fraudsters.

In August, the federal government reported it had detected more than 27,000 cases of suspicious activity over disaster relief payments in the previous six months.

“It’s despicable conduct, and the people doing it are scumbags,” Government Services Minister Bill Shorten said at the time.

Anyone who suspects someone might be giving fake information to receive a federal government payment can make a report on 13 15 24 or servicesaustralia.gov.au/fraud.

Anyone with information about a suspected fraudulent application for state government payments can contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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