Residents warn of water meter scam

Scam artists pretending to work for the City of Cape Town have hit Rondebosch, with the elderly being the preferred target.

The men claim to be acting as City officials forming part of an electricity and/or water meter upgrade project.

The City has warned residents of the scam saying it had received several complaints from different communities, including Claremont, Rondebosch and Milnerton. (“City warns against scamster,” Tatler, June 30).

The conman tells his victims that pensioners are being prioritised for the upgrades, and he gets them to part with thousands of rands, promising that his colleague will arrive the following day to install a new meter.

On Friday July 1 at 10am, Rondebosch resident Larry Davies, answered a knock on the door.

A “well-dressed and tall young man”, who identified himself as “Adam” claimed he was upgrading electricity meters in the area.

“Nothing struck me at the time about this man, as he presented himself really nicely, but I guess it was all part of the scam,” Mr Davies said.

He let “Adam” inside, and the conman appeared to know what he was doing.

He checked the electricity points and the meter and delivered a “flawless” explanation as to why the meters were being changed.

“I was sold, but I am also really old,” the pensioner laughed.

“I let this man into my house, little did I know I was being scammed.”

The scamster asked Mr Davies to fill out some forms, all bearing the City of Cape Town logos, and then asked for R4500 in payment. Mr Davies wrote him a cheque.

“Adam” thanked Mr Davies for his hospitality, packed up his things and left. But it was the vehicle “Adam” left in that gave the game away.

“Usually the City of Cape Town sends out officials in a vehicle that is branded with the City’s logo,” said Mr Davies.

“In the car, was another older man sitting and waiting, which I found highly unusual too. After they left, I immediately picked up the phone and called the City. Shockingly, they gave me the news,” he said.

Mr Davies immediately cancelled the cheque and reported the incident to the City.

Another Rondebosch resident, Melissa Hart, encountered the same scam.

She was approached by a much older man. He rang her doorbell on Saturday July 2.

Ms Hart found the man standing at her gate, armed with a file and forms, claiming electricity meters were being upgraded.

“He pulled out a City of Cape Town card, which had all his details on it. He even had one of these meters on him, and he was showing me at my gate what needed to be done. He seemed to be in a hurry, because he said he had lots of houses to do on this day.”

Ms Hart let the man, who called himself “Marvin”, into the house. She still had her suspicions, though, and followed him around as he checked the electricity points.

“I believed him to a certain extent. Everything he had done up until a certain point fooled me, but although this scam seems to have been well-rehearsed, there are always the cracks that give the game away,” she said.

Those cracks showed themselves when “Marvin” accidentally tripped the electricity and struggled to find the trip switch to switch it back on.

“Standing behind him, I would’ve assumed he would naturally just go to the trip switch and switch the electricity back on, but he was stalling, and his body language was just very weird. He really looked like he did not know what he was doing,” Ms Hart said.

Then her son arrived. This sent “Marvin” into a slight panic, because before he started packing his things to leave, he mentioned to Ms Hart that he needed her to sign some forms and he also spoke of an amount of R4000 that needed to be paid for the new meter.

“I switched on the electricity when my son walked into the house, and he is quite big built. Suddenly Marvin looked very nervous and said that he first needs to send somebody out to determine why it tripped as it can damage the new meter,” she said.

“He started mumbling and just looked dumb. When he left, I sat down in shock and told my son, ‘I think we were nearly scammed, and I let this guy into our house’.”

Her son called the City of Cape Town and her fears were confirmed.

“I actually broke down into tears, because anything could have happened,” Ms Hart said.

While the City is currently rolling out an electricity meter replacement programme, the replacements are free.

Each replacement has a notification number on the City’s internal systems which the City call centre can verify should a resident enquire.

The City also does targeted marketing and mailbox drops ahead of any planned work in an area.

The City said its field staff do not handle cash – all such transactions are done at the City’s customer centres or electronically. Customers would also not be charged for water meter replacements unless they had formally applied for a change.

* You can verify a City employee’s identity before letting them into your home by calling 0860 103 089. You can also request a letter of appointment outlining the purpose of the project on a City of Cape Town letterhead, signed by a City official with both office and cellular telephone numbers on the letterhead.