Beware of CBD scammers

Cape Town Central police have warned of an increase in scams in the city centre after three men were arrested for swindling a Grabouw man out of R660 000 last week.

And police have urged people to be extra vigilant as the tourist season approaches.

Captain Mkhululi Tumana of Cape Town Central police, who made the arrest, had worked around the clock to arrest the three con men on the very same day that the complaint was received.

They have appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on charges of fraud.

Captain Tumana said he heard about the case while on duty last week. “A man from Grabouw opened a case as he was defrauded of R660 000 by a man at offices in Shortmarket Street. The man spent all of his pension money giving it to two guys who promised that they would pray on it and make his money grow. The man gave
R220 000 at a time.”

He said the victim of the scam had been instructed to bring the money and two eggs, and place them in a briefcase, which they took with them. They said the money had to be cleansed and then prayed over so it would grow.

“They kept asking for more money, but the complainant received nothing in return,” said Captain Tumana.

He investigated the complaint and went to the address in Shortmarket Street, where he walked into a “consultation” with a woman, who was presumed to be a victim of the same scam.

“There was only one man there, but it wasn’t the man described to us – but I became suspicious of the mat on the wall.

When I looked behind the mat, there was another man hiding in the divided section with R 3500 that we took in.

“Both men were arrested as they were in possession of the briefcase and the business adverts, but the man identified by the complainant was still not there.”

It later emerged that the man behind the business had a white Mercedes Benz and was in Long Street where Captain Tumana arrested him. “What surprised me is that when we approached the man, he had no keys to the car. He said the keys were lost. The car was impounded and hopefully we find the rest of the money inside the vehicle after it is processed for evidence.”

Cape Town Central police spokesperson, Captain Ezra October, said police received many complaints from people who fall victim to scams of this nature.

“A week ago, two men from Holland were scammed out of R12 000 when they responded to an online advert that someone was selling a laptop. They never received their item.”

Last month, at least three women were scammed out of R500 *EACH?* after responding to an online recruitment ad for a domestic worker (“Women conned out of money by online scam”, CapeTowner, September 21.)

He said people who fell prey to these scams were often asked to bring money in cash so that there was no paper trail.

He said visitors to the city centre and tourists, or people who were in desperate need of a job, were often targeted.

He urged people to remain vigilant. “We need to find ways to better inform tourists and people visiting our city of scams and crime such as pickpocketing and robberies, and this needs to happen before they visit the city or South Africa.

“These scams are a concern for the police. We want to prevent (them) from picking up as the holiday season approaches.”

City Central Improvement District (CCID) security manager, Muneeb Hendricks, said CCID guards seldom dealt with scams like these.

“We deal more with ‘immediate’ scams as they happen on-the-street where, for instance, people, particularly tourists, are scammed at ATMs.”

However, he said, a similar one is the “bless your money” scam, which usually happens at an ATM and locals are usually the targets.

“A victim will be approached by someone claiming to be a preacher or a sangoma who is able to bless their money and double it. The money is placed in a brown paper bag and while the victim is distracted in some way, the bag is swopped for another full of paper. The scamster will then get away before the victim is able to see the contents of the swopped bag.”

He said that, because of the CCID’s day-to-day contact with establishments such as hotels, they sometimes received information about scams which occur inside these premises. “The very latest is one involving a ‘guest’ who will call ahead, saying that they will be booking in personally later in the day but that they are sending their luggage on ahead, with a request for the hotel to accept it from the taxi driver.

“The taxi driver will then be paid by the hotel when he arrives with the luggage, which it is later discovered to contain nothing but newspapers – but of course there is no guest. The scam is the payment of the taxi driver’s fee.”

He said a popular scam is the “nice shoes” scam, whereby a trickster will walk up close behind a pedestrian while complimenting them on their shoes. When the scamster is close to his victim, he distracts the person with a compliment while taking the victim’s wallet or cellphone.

Mr Hendricks said the CCID constantly drive public awareness and education and have a brochure is regularly distributed on the street. “We also have a large number of requests for these brochures from hotels (although we do wish more of these would display the brochure in each hotel room), as well as from many businesses in town who want their own staff to be aware and stay safe.”

The CEO of Cape Town Tourism, Enver Duminy, said the Airports Company of South Africa, the CCID, SANParks and SAPS had put additional safety measures in place ahead of the holiday season. Among these were increased patrols, more visible security and a wealth of information available at central points and on websites, including emergency numbers.

He said in the lead-up to the holiday season, there were meetings held to discuss various safety initiatives and to develop a cohesive visitor safety strategy. “Crime is an unfortunate reality in any big city. Unscrupulous criminals may target visitors and locals alike with scams, so it’s important to be aware of this possibility and act accordingly.”