As many people have found out over the years, getting your picture on the front page of The West Australian is not always a good thing.
For the 23 young people who figured prominently on Monday, it was far from a high point in their CVs.
But there was something about the CCTV pictures of the people the police are chasing over an EFTPOS scam that was not mentioned in the report.
All of the alleged offenders in the rip-off that is hitting small retail businesses hard — bar one young female — were males of African appearance.
So was that just coincidental, or was it evidence of an organised crime operation in WA’s African-origin community?
The WA Police are clearly trying to play down the ethnic element in the offending. But the reality is that a further 20-odd people who have already been charged with 235 of the “no card present” offences are also overwhelmingly from African backgrounds.
Which doesn’t necessarily suggest that the use of the loaded term “African gang” is appropriate.
Regional investigations unit officer Det-Sgt Simone Taplin was asked at a press conference on Monday — after The West Australian’s page one story — whether the offences were gang-related.
“These are individuals with a technology crime that they are sharing a way of committing that offence among a group of people,” Det-Sgt Taplin said.
“They are not a gang. There is not a hierarchy of people or anything like that. They are just individuals that are there to get money for themselves.”
It took seven minutes into a nine-minute press conference for a question to be asked about the “African appearance” of almost all of the people in The West.
“At the moment there’s a group of people that are offending and that’s the nationality at this time,” Det-Sgt Taplin said.
“But it’s not the only nationality that are committing these crimes. This type of crime is a new type of offending. It is a technology crime that is being committed across Australia and is being committed by all nationalities.”
However, research shows a link to the African community has been a strong feature of these offences nationally.
This report appeared in the Daily Mercury in Mackay, Queensland, in July:
“Mackay Police have netted three members of an alleged sophisticated fraud syndicate that have been on the run for years and are wanted in six States and Territories.
“The three males are allegedly members of a crime gang operating out of Perth who police will allege have been travelling across Australia defrauding businesses by using credit card details purchased on the dark web.
“Det-Insp. Brendan Smith said the accused trio, one of whom is a 17-year-old, were arrested in Mackay on Monday thanks to a tip-off from a vigilant flight agency staff member.”
It should be noted that one of the features of the recent spate of crimes in Perth has been the youth of the alleged offenders, with some as young as 14.
“They are relatively young people of African descent, which is an unusual ethnicity for Mackay,” Det-Insp. Smith told the Daily Mercury.
“We are calling on members of the public that may have had any dealings with people of clearly African, Sudanese descent in the last 24 hours to come forward.”
The report said Mackay police believed the “syndicate” had 12 members and has been wanted for two years for crimes throughout Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT, Tasmania, and WA.
In November last year, Toowoomba’s The Chronicle also warned about the EFTPOS scam: “Offenders have been described as between 15 to 25 years old, male and of African and Middle Eastern appearances.”
Earlier, in September, a report in Adelaide’s The Advertiser put the scam down to a “gang” but made no mention of ethnicity:
“One King William Street trader alerted The Advertiser after he was told the bank would not honour around $8000 of gift card purchases from his store, and at least one other CBD shop has been hit.
“They are a gang and they all come in and select the most expensive items like Myer, David Jones and other gift cards,” he said.
“They pretended their credit card was not working and would then ask to do a manual transaction.
“They are on the phone all the time and looking back I think they were getting instructions from the gang leader.”
In June of this year, the offences cropped up in regional Victoria:
“Warrnambool police have released images of people of African appearance wanted over large number of frauds in the city,” The Standard reported.
“Det-Sen. Const. Kim Wheeler, of the Warrnambool police crime investigation unit, said the trio aged in their 30s had entered credit card numbers directly into EFTPOS machines at businesses.
“She said their transactions were declined at some stores.
“They were successful at a lot of others, 10-plus businesses, and have obtained goods valued at about $30,000,” she said.
So what part of this chain of reported offending doesn’t look like gang activity?
And why is it necessary for the WA Police to tip-toe around what most people would accept is an organised pattern of offending within one ethnic group?
After a long period of denial and huge community unrest, police in Victoria eventually admitted they had an African gang problem.
As usual, any focus on ethnic links brings cries of racism and skewed media attention.
More than 40 young West Australians from the relatively small African community are now caught up in this one particular form of criminal activity.
Anyone who is aware of the difficult backgrounds from which many of these young people originate can accept that their integration into Australian society will be difficult.
That doesn’t excuse criminality.
However, isolating them further would be counter-productive.
Thankfully, this ethnically based crime has none of the violence that caused such alarm in Victoria.
But it needs to be addressed openly and frankly.