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Commerce Commission investigating Safety Warehouse fake money drop event

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The Commerce Commission has opened an investigation into representations made by Greenback Ecommerce Limited trading as The Safety Warehouse in relation to the “The Drop” event on Saturday.

The PR event had promised a $100,000 drop from the sky, but it turned out to be fake money which could be used as discount vouchers.

The online store, which sells protective wear, had advertised that $100,000 in cash would be given away in a “live cash giveaway”, with the promise that “ACTUAL MONEY will be flying from the sky”.

Some people travelled long distances at personal expense to attend the event.

The Commission had received four complaints by Monday, and said it would review them.

Up to 1000 people showed up at Auckland’s Aotea Square expecting to be part of a cash giveaway but instead got mainly discount vouchers resembling $5 notes.

The PR stunt caused tempers to flare as those gathering up the vouchers discovered it wasn’t “real” money.

Safety Warehouse managing director Andrew Thorn said in a statement the company stood by their marketing and the vouchers issued and insisted “real funds” were given away alongside the vouchers.

“It was $100,000 in real money, and the fake money discounts on top – I think that was $40,000 [fake money] notes that were printed,” he said.

Thorn said some of his staff were bruised when the crowd turned angry, and one man who was in the back seat of the car was taken to hospital after an object thrown through the back window scattered glass into his eyes. He did not yet know whether the injury to the man’s eyes was serious.

Thorn said he started the Safety Warehouse business before Covid-19 to supply workwear in Australia and New Zealand, but then moved into masks, hand sanitiser and other personal protective equipment when the pandemic started.

“We did really well through the Covid period supplying the Australia and NZ market and we simply felt like, why don’t we have an event and have a giveaway?”

He said all the “fake money” notes offered discounts for products that people could buy on the Safety Warehouse website.

“Some goods were free – enter a code and it was 100 per cent off. There was a range of things,” he said.

A worker at the event need hospital treatment after being struck in the eye with shards of glass as the event turned ugly.

Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the organisers of the event should apologise.

Ardern said she could not “fathom how someone would think that was a good idea”.

“It’s caused harm, it’s caused hurt, they should apologise,” Ardern said of The Safety Warehouse, which organised the event.

She said it was likely to have caused a lot of confusion and hurt to people at the event.

On Tuesday, it was revealed fake money from the controversial promotional had been used to dupe a bar into providing free drinks in Hamilton.

In Hamilton, the Outback Inn discovered $20 worth of the lookalike bills in their till count from Saturday night’s takings.

John Lawrenson, chief executive of the Lawrenson Group, told Newshub they didn’t even notice until the end of the night.

“The manager was counting up the tills and just noticed that some of the $5 notes were slightly different from the others. As it turned out, the money from the cash dump had managed to make its way down to Hamilton and had been used to buy a few drinks.”

Lawrenson said the amount used was relatively immaterial in the grand scheme of things but believes other establishments might be affected.

“[The $5 notes] are quite similar and I can certainly see how on a dark night in the middle of a busy shift that bartenders would make the mistake that has been made here.”

Outcry over the ill-fated promotion also led to one disgusted attendee has starting an online petition demanding people with vouchers be paid real money.

Levin’s John Murphy called the event a waste of time, and claimed many attendees were from impoverished backgrounds who felt duped.

He has since initiated a petition, which has more than 280 signatories, demanding The Safety Warehouse convert vouchers dispensed at the event into real cash.

“I know people from outside Auckland who got stranded. Many of us including myself suffered injuries,” Murphy told the Herald on Sunday.

“People pushed, shoved and threw themselves over each other in an attempt to get what looked like real money.”

He claimed one person who appeared to be an organiser shared a laughable suggestion that the $5 vouchers could be redeemed for real money at the bank.

A Massey University marketing professor also weighed into the debate, saying the company should apologise, and hire a good public relations company to help salvage its reputation.

Professor Malcolm Wright told Radio New Zealand the stunt had breached customers’ trust.

“I don’t think they would have been setting out to deceive, of course they wouldn’t have been setting out to deceive. Somebody just oversold it and went a bit far.”

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