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Warning about profiteering from the bushfire disaster

Wed 9 January 2013

Nick McKim

Minister for Corrections and Consumer Protection

The Minister for Corrections and Consumer Protection, Nick McKim, has warned Tasmanians to be wary of anyone seeking to profit from the bushfire disaster either through charging excessive prices for goods and services or by fraudulently collecting donations.

Mr McKim said anyone caught profiteering would face prosecution.

"It is a sad fact that while most people in the community are very generous and caring, a tiny minority will exploit others when they are most in need," Mr McKim said.

"We will not tolerate this sort of behaviour and will use the full force of the law to deal with anyone engaging in profiteering.

"The Office of Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading has already received an unsubstantiated report of a business charging excessive prices for grocery items and will be closely monitoring the situation to identify any such practices.

"Profiteering is considered 'unconscionable conduct' under the Australian Consumer Law, and the Government will prosecute anyone who exploits the bush fire disaster by charging excessive prices."

Mr McKim said such conduct attracts fines of up to $220,000 for individuals and $1.1 million for corporations.

"If a consumer suspects profiteering or thinks that a price or price rise is excessive or unreasonable, they should first ask the trader to explain the reasons for the price.

"If they are not satisfied with the trader's response, they should immediately contact Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading on 1300 65 44 99."

Consumers should record details of the trader's name and location, a description and price of the goods.  Copies of receipts and photographs of any signage would also be useful.

Mr McKim also warned Tasmanians to watch out for fake fundraisers pretending to raise money for bushfire-affected communities.

"We want people to continue their generosity but make sure they are dealing with a legitimate charity or organisation," he said.

"If you want to help and make sure that your money gets to the right people, you should donate only to recognised charities, businesses or organisations.

"The law in Tasmania requires people who are collecting donations to clearly identify who they are and who they are working for. 

"People should be wary of collectors who will not give details of the charity they represent, get defensive when asked for information, or insist on donations being made by cash or money transfer.

"If the charity is well known but you are suspicious of a specific collector in your area, contact the charity and ask if they are aware of the collector."

Both the Red Cross and St Vincent de Paul have set up Tasmanian Bushfire Appeals.  More information on these is available from http://redcross.org.au/tasmanian-bushfires-appeal-2013.aspx  and http://www.vinnies.org.au/home-tas

For more information on the fire situation and support services, contact 1800 567 567. Up-to-date information on the fires can also be found at the Tasmania Fire Service website www.fire.tas.gov.au.  Information on grants and other support available to those affected by fires can be found at www.dpac.tas.gov.au/bushfires