Phone thieves bleed R600,000 from well-known Pretoria chef

A well-known Pretoria chef said he lost nearly R600,000 after thieves stole his phone.

Fortunato Mazzone, who co-owns the Forti Grill and Bar and his chef patron at the Forti Bistro and Forti Too, posted about the experience on Facebook on Monday, 12 February 2024.

“Every single bank account I have, be it business or personal, has been looted today,” he said.

“They have stolen my staff wages. My rent. The money I need to pay my suppliers. They even maxed out my credit cards. I am in one foul sweep over R600,000 in the red.”

The ordeal started when Mazzone’s phone was snatched from a table at the Aroma restaurant in Lynnwood Drive on Sunday, 11 February 2024.

Mazzone told Rapport that when he reported the crime soon thereafter, police at Brooklyn station said this had been the second incident at the same restaurant on that day.

He said he could not locate the device, presumably using a location detection service like Samsung or Apple’s Find My tools, to wipe its information.

The following morning, his private banker at Standard Bank called and notified him of suspicious transactions on his accounts.

Money moved out of frozen accounts

Mazzone said he was told his accounts were frozen before he headed to the Standard Menlyn branch.

However, despite being frozen, money kept being moved from his accounts as he and staff at the bank watched on.

“While I was sitting in the bank today with bankers around me and my accounts allegedly blocked, money was being transferred out of my accounts. In front of our eyes,” he said.

“The bankers seemed powerless to stop it. It was heartbreaking.”

The thieves also maxed out all his credit card accounts with Nedbank.

“It was all being transferred from all my accounts in Standard and Nedbank to Capitec accounts all over South Africa and being drawn from autobanks [ATMs],” Mazzone said.

“As one account was stopped, new ones appeared. It was like living in a surreal disaster movie.”

He also said that some smaller amounts were sent to cellphone numbers via mobile money accounts.

Eventually, a senior manager at the bank branch came and practically purged Mazzone from the bank’s systems.

By that time, R126,000 had already been moved out of his account.

Mazzone did not explain whether he had contacted Nedbank about the transactions on those accounts.

Fortunato Mazzone is the co-owner and chef patron of Forti Grill and Bar and chef patron at Forti Bistro and Forti Too.

Rapport asked Standard Bank for feedback on the incident, but it had not responded by the time of publication.

MyBroadband also sent a query to Standard Bank and Nedbank but did not immediately receive feedback.

It is unclear how the thieves gained access to Mazzone’s Standard Bank account through his mobile app, as this is normally secured with a PIN or biometric authentication.

It is important to note that Apple and Samsung users can easily remotely wipe their devices, which Mazzone said he attempted.

Both Apple and Samsung turn their Find My Mobile and Find My iPhone features on by default.

There was also no mention of whether he had changed his banking passwords or had the MTN SIM card in the device blocked.

Mazzone did say he went into an MTN store on Monday to perform the SIM swap, but a block might have been actioned earlier.

We asked MTN for comment on this but did not immediately receive feedback on our query.

Considering leaving the country

Mazzone hopes that he will be able to get his money back but has become fed-up with the situation in South Africa.

“Our businesses are all teetering on the edge of solvency as it is, with load-shedding, crazy price increases, crippling rentals, crippling electricity accounts and myriad of new ways the government squeezes money from businesses in the form of ridiculous licenses, red tape and bureaucratic anti-business bulls**t,” he wrote on Facebook.

“I just can’t do it anymore. I just can’t. I need to get out of here. I have been the victim of too much crime. Too much anguish. There is too much pain in this country. And I realised today there is no way back. I admit defeat.”

Mazzone said he is putting up a lot of businesses and property for sale for “cheap”.

“I will literally give them away for asset value. I just need a break,” he said.

“I need to sit in a quiet village. With electricity. And no threat of being killed or robbed. Or watching other people killed or robbed. I need to be amongst ethical people. I need normality.”

Mazzone also said he was selling one of the most expensive wines sold in South Africa to aid with the financial recovery.

He had bought the bottle of 1969 Grand Vin of Chateau Margaux at the 2000 Nederburg Auction for R250,000 but is now selling it for R120,000.

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Phone thieves bleed R600,000 from well-known Pretoria chef