Spot a stolen car scam

South Africans who have lost their cars to thieves or hijackers should take care to avoid scammers trying to rob them again by falsely claiming to have recovered their vehicle.

In the past few years, there have been numerous instances of fraudsters impersonating police officers and fooling people into thinking their prized stolen car was recovered.

In 2018, the South African Police Service (Saps) warned that this had become a big problem in Pretoria in particular.

In the past, this crime was typically carried out by small-time financial criminals.

They focused on convincing people to pay around R1,500 as a release fee into a bank account or mobile money wallet.

The fraudster would then withdraw the money from the account and deactivate or dispose of the SIM card they used for communicating and transacting, leaving the victim out of pocket and as carless as before.

Vehicle theft victims should note that the police will never ask for any fees before releasing a stolen vehicle.

With upfront payments for stolen vehicle releases more generally understood to be a clear sign of a scam, criminals have adapted their modus operandi.

Instead of requiring upfront payment, they ask that the car’s owner meet them at a certain location at a predetermined time.

If a victim falls for the trap, they risk suffering another robbery or physical assault at the hands of the scammers.

In one MyBroadband reader’s case, the criminals were able to provide specific details about her car, including the make, model, and colour, as well as her ID number and address.

They could even produce the case number from the police report.

A source in the police who preferred to remain anonymous told MyBroadband that there are various ways in which criminals could get their hands on this information.

This includes corrupt or compromised clerks at Saps stations sharing the highly sensitive information with criminals.

Editorial credit: Roxane 134 / Shutterstock.com

How to double-check legitimate police requests

There are several ways to ensure a call or message about your recovered stolen vehicle is legitimate.

Firstly, victims of car theft should not assume they received a call or message from an actual police officer merely because they can produce the abovementioned information.

Secondly, police officers will not ask you to meet them in a random location — even public areas.

Saps requires that the owner of a stolen vehicle go to the station or pound in person with personal documents and vehicle registration papers as proof of ownership.

The owner can also appoint an insurance company to collect the vehicle from the pound if it is damaged.

You can also verify that the vehicle is at the station by requesting the police officer send you photos or video of the car.

These could also help confirm whether the car is really yours or someone else’s.

Criminals often scrape the VIN number from a stolen vehicle’s engine, making identification difficult without someone familiar with all the small details of the car, like a unique scratch or dent that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Lastly, the police officer can confirm their position of authority by providing you with an image or video of their appointment card.

This document must be carried by all Saps personnel and presented upon request of citizens.

If a police officer is willing and able to do so, ask for a live video call in which they identify themselves and show you the vehicle in real-time.

Finally, no car owner will be required to make payments for the vehicle’s release upon inspection and collection.

If this happens at a police station, it should be reported to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) for follow-up.

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Spot a stolen car scam