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7 December 2011

I was happily doing a few blog entries when, just as I finished the ‘Cuckoos’ one, an email signalled arrival and I turned to check who was contacting me. According to the email it was from the Department of Internal Affairs and they’d just deposited a sum of money into my bank account. I considered that information doubtfully. It was a nice thought, but so far as I knew they didn’t owe me anything and what was it for? There was no information as to that in the email or on the attached payment note. When this sort of thing happens I tend to be suspicious, usually it’s either an error or a scam. Well, they had a phone number on the email…so I phoned. A nice lady at the other end assured me that they had already received a number of calls, and that they knew nothing at all of this.
Had I done anything of recent months that might have led to a payment? Hummm. Citizenship? I’m a born and bred kiwi. Births, deaths and marriages? I’ve been neither hatched, matched or dispatched lately. Raffles? Well, I don’t run them, and I didn’t think that winning $20 from one of my competitions last month would attract other payments. Passport? Yes – ah, well – no. Yes, I got a new one this year , but I’d received it. Why would the Department be reimbursing me the cost? If they’d decided out of the blue that I was a terrorist or something and shouldn’t have got the passport I didn’t think they be sending me a repayment – more likely the Armed Offenders Squad. I should check with my bank, the lady said, and if money hadn’t been deposited then it was probably a scam since the email email said clearly that “the money HAS been deposited…”
My question was, that if it was a scam how had the scammers known my bank account number and feeling a bit insecure over that, I phoned my bank. They checked my account – after a prolonged and rigorous check that I was who I said I was. Things almost fell over right there since starting to feel more paranoid I wasn’t happy about giving them some of the details they wanted. Yes, I knew I’d rung their number, yes, I knew they were the xxx bank. But they themselves had been telling me for years not to give out those details and…I was persuaded – to discover that no, that amount had not been deposited in my account. Therefore the bank said, it was almost certainly a scam and I should email the email to their scam-alert people. As for the bank account number, that was worrying. I should go back to the Department of Internal Affairs and ask them to check further.
But now my paranoia level was so high it had bypassed the stratosphere and was on a straight-line trajectory for the outer planets. Fearing that the phone number given in the email might actually be connecting me to the possible scam-artists, I looked up an alternative in the phone book. Phoned General Inquiries, and talked to a pleasant guy there who was sounding just a trifle weary. I listened to his explanation and smothered a fit of the giggles. The money was the annual payment sent to writers who have a book or books in the library – The Public Lending Right. A writer who has his/her books in public libraries receives x amount as compensation for all the readers who read the work without buying it. I get this each year, however… it normally arrives as a letter, listing the eligible books and adding all sorts of details. It can’t be mistaken for anything but what it is.
This year those who do this, had apparently decided to save trees and postage by sending everything as an email. They’d omitted anything ON the email to say why you were getting the money, AND there was nothing on the attachment that said so either. Nor apparently, had they thought to tell those who answered the phone whose number was IN the email what they’d done, so they were just as baffled as anyone when they began to get all these phone calls. I get the impression that paying the PLR this year will be a steep learning curve for the Department of Internal Affairs. A large percentage of New Zealand writers will have been phoning them (as well as their banks and probably Netsafe too.) And the apprehension and confusion caused has been considerable.
I told the chap that he should enlighten whoever was on the (emailed) phone number before things spread further. He said he’d do that. I phoned my bank back to explain and to add that if others called they could check ‘these’ points and if they agreed, then this is what the payment would be for. They were grateful. And I sat down to write this, contemplating that old saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. I’m sure you get the allusion.

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