Auckland student allegedly stole dead Kiwi's identity to rip $17 grand from finance companies

News 07/12/2016

An Auckland journalism student has been charged with fraud for allegedly stealing the identity of a dead New Zealander to obtain two loans amounting to $17,200.

It's alleged Nathan Calder, 22, obtained a fake passport under the identity of Nicholas Rohdes, a Kiwi who died in the US of a heroin overdose in 2014.

Mr Rohdes, commonly known as Nick, was born in Wellington but had spent most of his 24 years living in Colts Neck, Pennsylvania.

A source told Newshub Mr Calder, who hosts a student internet show, allegedly obtained Mr Rohdes' identity by using a popular online website that researches people's ancestry.

Using a photograph of himself, Mr Calder allegedly applied for and obtained a New Zealand passport under the name Nicholas Rohdes, and then attempted to use it as identification to secure two loans each of $8600 from Merrick Finance and NZ Credit Union

Mr Calder was also charged with allegedly attempting to steal the identity of another Kiwi who died in the US, Whangarei-born Sonny Kless, a budding pilot who was tragically killed in a plane crash in 2010.

In both cases the deaths of Mr Rohdes and Mr Kless were not registered in New Zealand.

When Mr Calder appeared in the Auckland District Court on Tuesday, his lawyer said he pleaded not guilty to all five charges, despite his advice not to.

He was charged with two counts of obtaining a document by deception, and three counts of using a document dishonestly for pecuniary advantage.

If found guilty, Mr Calder could face up to 17 years in prison.

He will reappear in court in March 2017.

So what does Mr Calder's alleged identity theft tell us about a possible loophole in New Zealand's registry system?

The Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Jeff Montgomery, told Newshub it's increasingly common for Kiwi-born people who pass away overseas to not have their deaths registered in New Zealand.

"It's not a loophole in the system, it's the same in every country in the world.

"Death registrations are always done in the country where the event happened."

Mr Montgomery admits the ease of which people can find out other people's identities online means they are looking at ways to alter the current system.

"We're looking at making some changes at the moment, we're looking at how we share data between countries, but it's a complicated business.

"There's different legislation in each country or in each state around what information can be shared, so we're looking at aligning the legislation and aligning our processers so information can be shared, and shared accurately.

Mr Montgomery says a simple solution is for the family of a deceased person to return their loved-one's passport to the Department of Internal Affairs so it can be cancelled.

"Some of the responsibility falls with the family to make sure that if their loved one dies overseas, that they can register or record that death back in New Zealand."

Mr Calder's case is not unique, even to New Zealand lawmakers.

In 2010, ACT MP David Garrett resigned following revelations he had obtained a passport in the name of a dead infant in 1984.

Mr Garrett's response was that he did so "to see if he could get away with it".

In 2004 two Israeli citizens suspected of being secret agents were caught and jailed for trying to illegally obtain a New Zealand passport under the identity of a man with cerebral palsy.

The incident caused the Helen Clark-led Government to take diplomatic sanctions against Israel.