New Zealand police said on Friday they were “sickened” at a spate of looting, email scams and bogus appeals for charity in the wake of the deadly Christchurch earthquake.
As rescuers continued to comb wreckage for survivors after the 6.3 magnitude quake on Tuesday that claimed at least 113 lives, police said it was appalling that criminals were trying to capitalise on other people’s misery.
They said residents in the stricken city had reported conmen posing as government officials, wearing reflector vests and brandishing fake identification, going door to door trying to get into properties.
Looting and burglaries, including one at the home of a woman feared dead in the disaster, have also been reported, while fraudulent emails soliciting charity donations were also doing the rounds.
“I am frankly sickened by people like this, who see this disaster as an opportunity to prey on vulnerable people,” police superintendent Russell Gibson told Radio New Zealand.
District commander Dave Cliff said drunken disorder was also on the rise in the city, where stressed residents have endured two major earthquakes and thousands of aftershocks in the past six months.
“Sadly, on the general policing front, we are continuing to see disorder, drunken disorder in particular,” he said.
“We’re still arresting burglars and thieves, we’d urge people to be vigilant, to look after the property of neighbours and don’t hesitate to phone police if you’ve got concerns about people acting suspiciously.”
Police said two men charged with stealing generators being used to restore infrastructure were refused bail in Christchurch District Court and eight people were arrested for breaching a cordon around the city centre.
The consumer affairs ministry warned of an email designed to look like it was from the Red Cross which redirected Internet users to a website where they were asked for credit card details.
“The scam website has the same look and feel as the genuine Red Cross website,” it said.
Another fraudulent email claimed to be from Donate4Charity NZ, a legitimate British-based charity, the department said.
Police at Kapiti, in the North Island of New Zealand, said a man pretending to be an earthquake victim asked for donations from parents dropping their children at school.
The family of television producer Donna Manning said her home was burgled on Wednesday night as her two children waited outside the flattened CTV building desperately waiting for news from rescue crews.
“Bad things happen. We are all suffering bad things as a result of this earthquake that we can’t help,” Manning’s brother Maurice Gardiner told TVNZ on Thursday.
Police said officers backed by their Australian counterparts drafted into the city and the New Zealand military would “saturate” the streets with patrols and strictly enforce a curfew and a city centre cordon.
Mayor Bob Parker has described criminals trying to exploit the earthquake as “at the bottom end of the feeding chain.”