Victims of vehicle theft should be wary of a car recovery scam that could see them lose even more money.
Multiple people have reported receiving phone calls from people posing as police officers who claim to have retrieved their stolen vehicles.
The scammers attempt to extort thousands of rand from the victims by offering to tow their vehicles to them from remote locations across the country.
One MyBroadband reader explained his ordeal with these scammers, which began when his VW Polo Vivo was stolen in May 2019.
He reported the case at the Brooklyn Police Station in Pretoria, and two weeks later he was contacted by a person claiming to be the investigating officer working on his stolen vehicle case.
In-depth details supplied
The caller told the victim that his Polo Vivo may have been recovered in Mpumalanga and asked to confirm various details of the car the “police officer” was “seeing” in front of him.
The caller then proceeded to provide specific details about the vehicle – including the registration number and the scratches on the car.
Once the victim confirmed it was his vehicle, the caller told him the vehicle had apparently been used in an armed robbery and computers and guns had been found in the car.
He told the victim that his car would have to be impounded if he was not able to fetch it immediately, which he could not do as he was in Gauteng at the time.
The caller then offered to have the vehicle taken to the Brooklyn Police Station if the victim paid R3,000 for the towing.
Although much of the story sounded believable, given the particular details the person had provided, the victim called his insurance company about the issue and was subsequently informed that it was a scam.
The victim said that he had not posted any information on the vehicle on social media, so he suspected that whoever had tried to scam him must have had access to the case file, which included the vehicle details the scammer repeated on the call.
He called the person back and told him to impound the car and that the insurance will handle the matter from there. He never heard from the scammer again.
Phone call straight from prison
Another person whose Toyota Land Cruiser was stolen from a parking basement in the Pretoria CBD in 2018 nearly fell victim to a similar scam.
In an attempt to get information on whether the vehicle had been spotted in public, he and his wife posted the vehicle’s description on a few groups on Facebook – including Eks van die Ooste and Stolen vehicles in South Africa.
Two weeks later, his wife received a message on Facebook Messenger advising her to contact a particular police officer, as they believed they had recovered the vehicle.
Her husband was eventually called by a person claiming to be a police officer at the stolen vehicle division in Musina, Limpopo. He said that the Land Cruiser had been recovered and requested that the victim go to a Pep Store to transfer R2,500 to pay for the towing of the vehicle to Pretoria.
To determine the veracity of the claim, he asked that the person take a photo of the vehicle to confirm whether it was his car. The caller was unable to do this.
Finding the request suspicious, the victim asked a contact to perform a trace on the number which had called him. The contact determined that the phone call had not originated from Musina, but from inside the Kgosi Mampuru Prison.
It was not clear whether the scammer was an inmate himself or if another person had been using the phone within the prison facility.
After calling the scammer back and telling him that he knows that the call came from inside the prison, the scammer hung up and blocked the victim’s number.
The Land Cruiser was later recovered by the military when an attempt was made to smuggle it over the Mozambican border close to Komatipoort.
MyBroadband reached out to the SA Police Service for more information about this scam.
Gauteng Provincial spokesperson Captain Mavela Masondo confirmed that they have received complaints of this nature and that the cases are under investigation.
He recommended that victims of hijacked or stolen vehicles match the name and contact number of the investigating officer making the call with the information provided to them when an officer was assigned to their case.
“It is important that the victim verifies with the investigating officer once they get the call or alternatively they can verify with the nearest police station,” Masondo stated.
Victims should also note the number from which the call originates and any other information that is given.
If this does not match with what they were provided, Masondo said it is important to make a note of the number used by the suspect to assist the police in its investigation.
He also explained the proper procedure police follow when they recover a stolen vehicle.
“Once the car has been recovered, the investigating officer will be informed immediately and will, in turn, inform the complainant to come and identify the car at the offices of SAPS,” Masondo said.
He said that the police would under no circumstances ask members of the public to pay for its service.
“We urge the public not to give money to any person calling himself/herself an employee of the SAPS. Instead, report the matter to the nearest police station or by calling crime stop on 08600-10111.”
When asked whether SAPS suspects the scammers may have gained access to case information held by the police, Masondo confirmed that investigations were underway, but that no arrests had been made thus far.