Cellphone scamster in court

A Pinelands resident is demanding answers from Vodacom after her phone was allegedly stolen by a Vodashop salesman, who has since appeared in court on a theft charge.

Evalina van Wijk opened a case with the Pinelands police in June claiming the salesman at the Vodashop branch at Howard Centre, whose identity is known to the Tatler, had scammed her into handing over her phone.

To make matters worse, she said, Vodacom tried to pass the buck by telling her the salesman no longer worked for the company.

Yesterday, after months of wrangling and only after Ms Van Wijk approached the Tatler with her story, Vodacom “apologised for the inconvenience” and offered to replace Ms Van Wijk’s phone. Tatler pressed Vodacom repeatedly to find out whether the company had fired the salesman, but they were only prepared to say that “appropriate action” had been taken.

Pinelands police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Helene Mouton confirmed the salesman had been arrested for theft on Wednesday June 22 and had appeared in the Goodwood Magistrate’s Court, although he had not yet entered a plea.

“No other victims have come forward as yet,” Lieutenant-Colonel Helene Mouton.

Ms Van Wijk said she had visited the Vodashop at Howard Centre on Saturday April 30 to upgrade her contract phone, a Samsung S4.

“The very nice salesman told me Vodacom’s new policy is that the only way a customer can get all their apps, photos and contacts transferred is if the customer hands in their old phone, which they do not get back. When I asked what they do with old phones, he said with a smile that Vodacom used them for spare parts,” Ms Van Wijk said.

“Regrettably, I believed the gentleman and handed over the old phone. My husband was with me at Wimpy when this man came to us and said the process is nearly finished. Then I heard that there is not such a policy, so the guy is gone with my contract phone, which I paid for over two years – and despite this not all my data was transferred.”

She acknowledged that she had been “a victim of a bad apple” working for Vodacom, but wanted to know what Vodacom was going to do about it.

Ms Van Wijk showed the Tatler correspondence between herself and a Vodacom representative who told her the salesman no longer worked for Vodacom. But Ms Van Wijk said that did not absolve Vodacom of responsibility for what happened.

“If a person goes into a shop and is served by an employee, that employee acts on behalf of the organisation. He served me in the shop, not outside the shop, so Vodacom’s attitude is unacceptable.”

She said she had been told by another Vodacom employee that she wasn’t the only victim at the shop – and this appears to be supported by comments posted on the Pinelands 531 Facebook group.

On June 1, resident Carol Coetzee wrote: “Should a salesperson at the Vodacom shop in Pinelands (or any other branch) tell you that Vodacom has a new policy whereby you can hand in your ‘old’ phone when you upgrade, please be very wary. I’ve confirmed with several Vodacom branches and the customer service line, and have been told that Vodacom have no such scheme in place.

“When the salesperson was asked why Vodacom needed the old phone, it was said for ‘spare parts’. The old phone was in perfect working order and well looked after – it was definitely not at the stage where it could be used for spare parts.”

Ms Coetzee said victims of the scam were told that if they did not hand in their old phones, Vodacom would have to charge R1 000 to copy data from the old phone to the new one.

“Should the old phone be handed in, of course there would be no charge for the copying of data to the new phone. Complaint has been sent through to Vodacom regarding this unscrupulous salesperson,” she wrote.

Screenshots Ms Van Wijk gave the Tatler of earlier correspondence between herself and a Vodacom employee identified as Colleen Wilson reveals show the company was not particularly sympathetic to her complaint.

On June 6, Ms Wilson wrote: “Thank you for bringing the below (matter) to our attention. The person in question had a disciplinary hearing. When you upgrade the handset belongs to you, You do not give the handset to anyone. The data transfer is R150.”

The following day, June 7, Ms Wilson confirmed the employee no longer worked for Vodacom, to which Ms Van Wijk responded: “I was conned by an employee of Vodacom. I have nothing to do with (the) person. Vodacom is accountable, and I will make a case against Vodacom.”

Ms Van Wijk said she had laid the complaint with police because she had read of others who had encountered the same problems and despite trying to address the matter in a “mature and professional manner”, all her efforts had proved fruitless.

But shortly before going to print yesterday, Vodacom spokesperson Londi Sibisi said the company took any sort of illegal activity on its network or at its franchise stores “very seriously and we do our best to prevent it”.

“We can confirm that Vodacom does not have a policy that requires customers to hand over their phones so as to get all their apps, photos and contacts transferred,” Ms Sibisi said.

“Following an investigation conducted by our dedicated forensic services team, appropriate action has been taken in this instance, and we apologise for the inconvenience that this has caused.

“As a responsible business that strives to deliver unrivalled customer service experiences, we would like to offer to replace the customer’s device.”