It appears a conman is scamming people out of airtime worth thousands of rand from inside his jail cell at Bethal Correctional Services in Mpumalanga.
The man pretends to be an elderly farmer and speaks Afrikaans. He uses different cellphone numbers to lure victims into believing he has fridges packed with meat that he needs to give away because his farm has run out of power.
After some victims realised they had been scammed, they approached Ben Almero who heads up non-profit organisation National Crime Assist.
Almero said so far more than 10 victims have come forward with similar stories.
He added the man would then direct them to his “farm” to collect the meat but also asked for airtime to issue to his employees.
“Depending on where the victims were situated, he would always claim he is nearby. Usually, he would use the Thabazimbi area in Limpopo and would say he is on a farm there and would sometimes claim his meat, which he was giving away, would rot and he is waiting for a technician but in the meantime can he be sent airtime.”
Almero said the conman used different names, such as Dr Bertie Malan from the farm Vergelegen, Oom Daan Malan and Louis.
One of the inmate’s victims, who wanted to remain anonymous and is based in Brits, told News24 on Wednesday he was introduced to the man by a neighbour.
He said his neighbour had been called by the man after he had advertised cattle on OLX.
He added the man had told him he was a farmer who had meat and dairy products packed in his fridge, which he wanted to give away because he had electricity issues.
The victim said the conman told him his farm was on Thabazimbi Road.
“He said I must send him an e-mail so that he can send it to his insurance so that it can pay him back. He pretended to be an old man and told me he had four men working for him and that he needed to pay their salaries. He said he gave the men their salaries along with R270 Vodacom vouchers.”
He said the man asked him to buy four airtime vouchers which he would pay back when they meet at the farm.
The victim said after he sent two vouchers, he realised something was not right. He added when he questioned the man about why he wanted to be sent the remaining two vouchers, he became aggressive.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been scammed like this. The funny thing is that he knows the area very well. He seemed like a good old guy on the phone.”
According to local newspaper Ridge Times, some victims have sent vouchers worth R3,000. After the airtime is sent the man disappears, and the victims cannot find the farm he had directed them to.
“We investigated and tracked down the man. We tracked the signal of the phone, and it took us to the premises where he was in,” Almero said.
He added it took over a week to collect information, saying once he had collected the details, he then called the man using his cellphone and recorded the conversation.
“When I called him, I asked when can I come to get the meat he was giving away, and he asked where I got his number. He then said I should inform him where I got his number,” Almero said.
After the organisation’s investigation revealed the scammer was inside the Bethal cells, the case was handed over to the Department of Correctional Services.
Correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo told News24 the department could neither deny nor confirm whether the man was indeed inside the correctional facility.
Nxumalo said a prisoner had been caught with several cellphones and the Hawks were investigating.
“There are still ongoing investigations, and this case is receiving serious attention. We are unable to disclose the name of the inmate being investigated by the Hawks until such time that formal charges have been pressed and the inmate appears in court – and if indeed the cases are related to your inquiry,” Nxumalo said.