More airtime than brains

An elderly woman from Kempton Park was swindled out of R300,000 after falling in love with the photo of a man claiming to be an Italian living in the Cape, Rapport reports.

The woman said she became bitterly lonely during the Covid–19 pandemic, and it drove her to a “Singles over 70” dating website.

She said that within hours she had suitors — and she liked a good-looking man who said he was Cape Italian, Waldo Benson.

As a dog-lover, the woman said his photo bowled her over.

However, it would later emerge that the photo actually belonged to an Australian Parliament minister Darren Chester.

Once the catfisher had their victim hooked, they buttered her up and then started asking for money.

First, he urgently had to travel to Turkey, followed by water damage at his home in Cape Town, then he typed in his card PIN incorrectly and got his card blocked, and finally, he was injured at work and had medical bills piling up.

The victim took out a second mortgage on her home, took out loans, and increased the limit on her credit card to help her handsome young suitor.

“Us women are made out of emotion. I fell in love with a photo. Sometimes you just have more airtime than brains,” she told Rapport.

Photo of Australian Parliament minister Darren Chester that a catfishing scammer used to trick an elderly woman out of R300,000

Another example of these catfishing scams, the paper reported, was a young woman from Mpumalanga who fell for a friendly and attractive “Brazillian” from Centurion.

When her father died and her suitor learned that she had inherited well, the catfisher’s life problems started. The scammer convinced her to pay for food, children’s school fees, and flights to the US.

Altogether she was taken for R500,000. As a good-hearted person who doesn’t earn a massive salary, she said it was a bitter pill.

These are just two examples of a rising tide of scams being perpetrated in South Africa.

Speaking to Rapport, University of Stellenbosch head of information science Bruce Watson said that scammers are increasingly targeting people in developing countries like South Africa.

While scammers traditionally targeted people in wealthier countries, Watson said that as victims in those countries get wise to their tricks, the criminals cast their nets wider.

Watson said people lose their heads when they are on the Internet, especially during online dating if they are desperate to meet someone or want to start a relationship.

It makes people share everything about their personal lives, and they become careless with their personal information, he said.

Catfishing is when someone uses images and information, often taken from other people’s social media accounts, to create a new identity online — sometimes using an individual’s entire identity as their own. —The Cybersmile Foundation

Another case in Rapport on Sunday was of a 32-year-old woman from the Vaal Triangle who lost her inheritance of nearly R1 million due to a scammer posing as a medium.

According to the report, the woman said she wanted to speak to her parents one last time after they both died due to Covid–19.

She found a Facebook profile for Gerald Burger, a self-proclaimed psychic who is well-known thanks to his show on KykNET, and asked him for help.

What the victim didn’t realise was that the Facebook profile was counterfeit.

She paid R550 for a consultation over WhatsApp. During the “consultation”, the scammers purporting to be Burger said that the victim’s family was threatened by dark forces and referred her to one “Peter”.

Peter would be able to help her better, she was told.

Through a combination of trickery and guilting, Peter convinced the victim to part with her inheritance of R950,000.

When she initially resisted his urging that her inheritance money needed to be “cleansed”, Peter told her that her deceased mother was constantly crying beyond the veil and her father couldn’t cross over to the other side because of her.

After the money was gone without a cleansed rand in sight, the victim and her husband contacted the real Burger.

He said that, unfortunately, it is not the first time con artists have misused his name to scam unsuspecting victims.

Now read: Scamming a scammer — we chatted up a fraudster to see what would happen

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More airtime than brains