Mr BROWN: My question without notice is to the Minister for Fair Trading. What is the latest information on the Government's efforts to crack down on scam mail?
Ms MEAGHER: I thank the honourable member for his question and note that he has received a complaint from a constituent who has received scam mail.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Epping to order. Question time has not yet concluded. If members continue to interject they will be removed from the Chamber. The Minister has the call.
Ms MEAGHER: The Carr Government is working to help protect families and business from scam mail. Honourable members may recall that earlier this month I announced a great victory in the war against overseas scam artists. The Supreme Court permitted the New South Wales Government to destroy more than 200,000 scam mail letters, ensuring that they never reach the hands of unsuspecting consumers. The letters, which originated from Canada, were seized by the Office of Fair Trading late last year. The letters, with the appearance of a fake cheque, promised a cash windfall of $13,000 provided that the consumer sent $50 to the company first. If each of those 200,000 letters had been received and responded to, it would have milked consumers of some $10 million of their hard-earned money.
The decision by the Supreme Court to give Office of Fair Trading officers the power to destroy these letters before they hit the letterboxes of consumers was a first for Australia. What is disturbing is the sophistication of these operations. In this case the letters looked official and were marked urgent, and for a vulnerable consumer the prospect of a cash windfall of $13,000 might have been an irresistible temptation. The message I want to send to consumers is simple: If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Lane Cove to order.
Ms MEAGHER: I would like to advise honourable members of another scam mail floating around, the El Gordo Sweepstake Lotteria. The letters generally advise consumers that they have won a substantial amount of money and that to avoid any mix-up the sender of the letter needs to confirm the consumer's identity. Consumers are asked to fill in a so-called payment authority form and return it to the scam promoters. Similar to the infamous Nigerian letter scam, this form asks for personal and bank account details. These scam promoters then use this information to attempt to empty the consumer's bank account. The scams rely on consumers confusing the lottery with the authorised Spanish lotteries.
I can inform honourable members that the New South Wales Office of Fair Trading is working closely with interstate and overseas consumer protection agencies and postal authorities to minimise the influx of overseas scam mail. The strategy involves the development of a national database and scam alert system to assist investigators in identifying suspect offers. A special intergovernmental working group has been formed to also consider legislative options to strengthen law enforcement agencies to intercept and detain suspect mail. Recently I launched a new consumer education campaign—Scam Smart: Beat the Cheats. The importance of consumer awareness against these types of scams is crucial. The education campaign is aimed at the vulnerable members of our community, particularly the elderly, to help them avoid becoming a victim. The brochures and posters provide information to help consumers identify scam mail, as well as highlighting the tricks and traits of the shonky operators. These are available from the Office of Fair Trading.
Questions without notice concluded.