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Racists spread Czech-language rumor online that Roma commit welfare fraud through utility refunds

Prague, 8.7.2011 17:32, (ROMEA)

Racists are once again spreading rumors in the Czech language on the internet claiming that Romani people are somehow robbing the poor taxpayer. The latest rumor spreading through social networks claims that by raising the amount it requires for down payments on electricity, the ČEZ corporation is unwillingly allegedly assisting Romani people, making it possible for them to request higher welfare payments and then cash in on refunds.

"Yet another way this state is giving money to the Gypsies! All it has to do is groundlessly raise the down payment required for energy. They take that paper to the social welfare office, where their benefits are increased - and at the end of the year they cash in the refund," some people writing on social networking sites are claiming.

The rumor has also taken the following form: "On Saturday I spoke with a woman who works at the customer service center and learned from her yuet another way this state is giving money to the Gypsies, this time with the aid of ČEZ. The Gypsy knows he uses CZK 2 000 worth of electricity a month. He goes to the ČEZ customer service center and requests his down payment be raised to CZK 4 000. He takes confirmation of this higher down payment to the social services department and requests support because he can't make such a high down payment. The welfare department goes ahead and pays his monthly support of CZK 4 000. No one monitors or verifies anything. Every month the Gypsy 'makes his down payment'. At the end of the year, ČEZ does its accounting and determines the Gypsy has overpaid by CZK 48 000. The company refunds the money to the Gypsy and he gets to pick up a nice fat envelope at the post office!"

"Down payments on the supply of electricity are calculated according to a maximum amount established by a special formula established in collaboration with the Energy Regulation Authority (Energetický regulační úřad). The formula takes into account the amount of electricity used, the number of persons in the household, the price set by the supplier, and the average consumption of electricity in the Czech Republic during the previous year," explains Viktorie Plívová, spokesperson for the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry.

The software applications used to calculate the amount of aid in material distress to be awarded to particular applicants already count on their making these sorts of attempts. A reverse monitoring mechanism has been developed and the chances of successful welfare fraud are actually very small and unlikely. The rumors making the rounds on the internet were rebutted by the ministry's press spokesperson in a press release: "After calculating the down payments, the software application also calculates the refund, determines the actual monthly expenditure for energy, and calculates any eventual welfare overpayment. Any such overpayment can then be deducted from the ongoing benefits or from any others later awarded."

There are currently 2 500 versions of these rumors appearing online. Some of the versions list the welfare cheat as just "Mr Novák", but that evidently has no influence over readers' automatic preconceptions of his ethnic origin.

František Bikár, Gwendolyn Albert, brf, hoax.cz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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