The economic hardship brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has spurred an increase in the number of scams across South Africa. It is also resulting in a fightback.
JANE was lonely and Jackson (not their real names) arrived at just the right moment.
She met him on a popular dating site, just months after her husband died. He wasn’t good looking, but they had similar interests and Jackson was a God-fearing man.
“We chatted for months, he said he was from America, an electrical engineer doing a project in Cape Town,” said Jane. But there were the warning signs; Jackson would always make excuses when Jane wanted to video chat.
Then, Jackson told Jane he had to travel to Dubai to collect materials needed for a project.
“When he returned, he let me know he had been robbed and they had taken his phone and laptop. He had to pay for his materials and would I be able to lend him the money.”
Jane had never used internet banking before, but Jackson provided her with the log-on details to his own banking account.
“I checked it. The account existed and there were millions of rand in there.”
Jane ended up giving Jackson R800 000. With the money gone, she became the latest victim of a romance scam.
The economic hardship brought on by the Covid 19 pandemic has spurred an increase in the number of scams across South Africa. It is also resulting in a fightback.
Louise Heyns, founder of Sky Women, fell prey to scammers three times, but now she is trying to help others protect themselves by securing their online identities.
Sky Women helps social media users in securing their social media accounts, cellphones and laptops against hacking. Heyns also provides a service to Facebook users.
Once these devices have been hacked, it’s easy to gain access to the user’s bank account details. Heyns consults with victims about the dangers of social media, protecting their accounts against future misuse or possible impersonation.
“I investigate the victim’s Facebook account, remove fake profiles, suspicious apps or website links and fake pages before I can cybersecure the account. Education is knowledge. Unfortunately most users have no idea how to manage their social media accounts. This is a big concern,” said Heyns, who assists the Hawks, FBI, Interpol and Cape Town-based private investigators, Royal Investigation.
She has watched as scammers have evolved their tactics.
“They are using software keyloggers and can access any Facebook account or (any other social media account) that’s not cybersecure,” said Heyns.
According to Heyns, scammers can bypass any passwords.
“The majority of social media accounts are not protected against cyberhacking. There are two forms of hacking, the first one is software keyloggers (the client won’t even notice) and the second one is phishing spam links (the client won’t have access to their account). Both strategies are being used on social media accounts,” she said.
Royal Investigations works to counter scammers committing these crimes. The organisation’s John Alexander said they were established by numerous respected international policing agents probing romance scams that are the singular most lucrative and easiest.
“We cover the entire plethora of crime; however during the past few months, we have been inundated with requests from victims of romance scams. Sourcing of hi-tech equipment became necessary to counteract increased sophistication of techniques used by scammers who attend professional IT training,” said Alexander.
This week, he investigated a scam where two female victims from Benoni and Vanderbijlpark lost vast amounts of money on dating platforms such as Tinder.
“Scammers posing as wealthy businessmen, stolen pictures and fake profiles declaring love and marriage,” said Alexander.
He has been appointed by various victims to uncover Nigerian syndicates in South Africa. “These individuals are living a luxurious life with sought-after houses and accompanying lifestyles with smart clothes and expensive cars,” he said.
“The so-called kingpins have never worked a day in their lives and establish a circle of runners who actually enact the scams, with the assistance of scripts and actors. Money is then delivered to the kingpins, who also use other individuals in the money-laundering process to hide from authorities, making the tracking process difficult and complicated,” added Alexander.
A South African bank account was used to launder money from various sources.
In Jane’s case, the law did catch up with her scammers. She hired Royal Investigations to track down the God-fearing and wealthy Jackson. They discovered that the scammers were located in the Strand, Cape Town. The investigation revealed that a foreign national allegedly involved in the scam had persuaded a South African to allow them to use his bank account.
A male suspect was arrested on July 5 on a charge of fraud. Two days later, a second female suspect was nabbed too.
Jane has yet to recover the R800 000 she lent to Jackson. Her bank is investigating fraud.
“He said all the right things, when you’re vulnerable you believe anything. People just need to be careful,” she warned.