An Indian fraudster posing as an agent for a New Zealand recruitment company has scammed thousands of dollars from Indian workers hoping to get a job in the Christchurch rebuild.
The conman forged documents, stole the company's logo and promised dozens of Indians a job in Christchurch, working for only $1.50 an hour.
National recruitment agency Advanced Personnel was targeted in the swindle, and operations manager Ryan Densem said he sought legal action when he realised the severity of the scam.
The company's Christchurch branch began receiving emails last month from men in Agra, about 200 kilometres south of New Delhi, claiming to have offers of employment from Advanced Personnel.
One man, Saravanan Ramachandran, said he had been offered a job as a machinist in Christchurch and emailed the company asking when his job would start and whether his flights were included in the recruitment fee.
Another man, Jitendra Yadav, emailed the company asking to become its "associate" in India.
Yadav works in Agra for Maa Bhagwati Associates, which claims to sell work permits for various countries online.
He claimed he met an Advanced Personnel agent who had promised 20 men jobs in the Christchurch rebuild. The 20 workers had each paid $180 to secure their employment, Yadav wrote.
The agent had given each of the men a letter (provided to The Press) titled Confirmation letter for work in New Zealand.
The Advanced Personnel logo had been copied from its website and pasted into the false letterhead. The letter purported to be signed by the company's Christchurch branch in Papanui Rd.
"This letter to confirm that Mr Saravanan Ramachandran will work in New Zealand. To begin employment with Advanced Personnel Services Ltd to terms and conditions of an approved employment petition field on his behalf. He will be employed as a CNC Machinist at hourly salary 1.5NZD," the letter read.
Densem told both men the letter was a "fraudulent document".
Yadav replied, pleading for help, saying he had already given the agent $3600.
"Sir, he is doing the work, of the help of your companies logo, many candidates give the money. pls sir stop the man, doing not good work," Yadav wrote.
Densem said the company sought legal advice about the forgery but was told it would be a costly exercise trying to chase the con artist from New Zealand.
"I feel so sorry for these guys and we have no control over it. I could hear them pleading in the emails," he said.
Densem was "irritated and angry" that someone was posing as an Advanced Personnel agent.
"Our branch is being seen to rip people off. It's pretty scary."
He believed the scammer had targeted Christchurch for the rebuild and, if the logo from his "small to medium-sized business" had been taken, he would not be surprised if other companies were being hit.
Patrick O'Connor, co-director of Christchurch's Peeto, the Multicultural Learning Centre, said the scam could be "just the tip of the iceberg".
"The word is out about this great city rebuild and the need for thousands of workers. It has spread internationally, and people in vulnerable situations will hear about it and open themselves up to exploitation," he said.
"How many other ruthless exploiters are going to be doing the same thing right across India and in other countries?"
O'Connor urged government officials to send word to New Zealand embassies in developing countries to warn vulnerable people of the threat of exploitation.
Immigration seeks help to stop scams
The Indian migrant worker scam has raised red flags within the Government.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) is calling for the public to help identify people involved in similar swindles possibly driven by Christchurch's rebuild.
"It is possible that there will be unscrupulous people who see the Canterbury rebuild as an opportunity to attempt this sort of scam," a spokeswoman said.
"Anyone seeking to work in New Zealand needs to be very careful that they are not being tricked out of their money and falsely offered jobs."
The Advanced Personnel fake employment offers were a "matter of concern" for INZ.
However, taking legal action against the fraudster would be very difficult, given international jurisdictions, she said.
Migrants hoping to work in New Zealand needed to "protect themselves" by checking with companies to ensure any offer of employment was genuine.
It may be common practice for immigration advisers to charge a fee for services, but it was unlawful for prospective workers to pay for a job offer.
"People seeking to work in New Zealand should be aware INZ will decline an application for a work visa where it considers that the employment was offered as a result of payment made by the applicant," she said.