With a new academic year and lots of first year students looking for accommodation, Woodstock police cautioned students to be vigilant when making electronic fund transfers to private bank accounts advertised on the internet.
Sergeant Hilton Malila, spokesperson for Woodstock police, said in most of the cases, students have viewed an advert online and after contacting the person, they send the deposit, never to hear from the person again.
Lethuli Nyango is originally from the Eastern Cape but responded to an advert in Observatory for a one-bedroom flat, advertised on Facebook and Gumtree.
Ms Nyango is due to start her Social Studies course at Cape Peninsula University of Technology later this month, but currently has to share her friend’s one-bedroom flat in Salt River after being scammed out of nearly R15 000.
“I responded to the advert and a woman called me back. She immediately wanted to know about payment and I was on about coming to see the place first. We made arrangements to view the apartment and the first time I saw the flat, I did feel a bit strange, as it did not seem as if the people who were living there were going anywhere. But nobody was home at the time, so I could not ask,” Ms Nyango said.
In a state of desperation, Ms Nyango went through with the deal, only to discover moments later that she had made a very big mistake.
“On the phone, I told the woman I was interested and I needed to move in very soon. I did raise the fears I had, but she was very convincing in her approach. I never met this woman, as she was unavailable the day I viewed the flat and instead sent somebody else to meet me there,” she said.
She was asked for a R10000 upfront and the first monthly payment of R5000 had to be made immediately in order to secure the flat.
“I never even had the money. I contacted my father back home and told him I found a place, but need help. He sent me the money I needed, from his life-savings and I immediately went to the bank and paid the required amount,” Ms Nyango explained.
With proof of payment in hand, she contacted the woman again. The first few times the phone rang and went to voicemail, but then the line was cut and she struggled to get hold of the woman.
Only after visiting the flat, she discovered that it was a scam.
“I spoke to the people living at the flat and they confirmed that it was never supposed to be up for rent. They could not explain how and why their apartment was being used, but were shocked to see their apartment being advertised. I was wrong in trying to imply they had something to do with it, because they helped me track down answers. Up until now, we have nothing and this woman just disappeared,” Ms Nyango said.
According to Ms Nyango, the account was registered in the name of a woman living in the Macassar area and the money had been withdrawn the same day it had been deposited.
The adverts on Facebook and Gumtree were removed and the phone number remains engaged.
“I feel so defeated, deflated and disappointed. I could not even bring myself to tell my father, but it’s not a nice thing to go through, especially if you are a student trying to work towards a better life for yourself,” she said.
Sergeant Malila said: “These adverts can originate from private individuals and also from scam or bogus letting agencies online.
“These agencies appear to be legitimate and will send the student a full lease agreement and in a few isolated instances they will even arrange for a contact to show the flat to the student. Some agencies have fake websites to
make them appear to be professional.”
He urged students to verify the credentials of the advertiser and the legitimacy of the property.
“If you come across a bogus advertisement, please report the matter to your local police,” he said.