Art for sale: is it all a con?

2012-04-11 00:00

A PIETERMARITZBURG couple say they feel foolish after paying R7 300 for six paintings that are apparently only worth about R480 from an “Israeli student” in what appears to be a possible art scam.

A tourist was recently questioned by police for being an accomplice in a suspected scam involving artworks in Pietermaritzburg.

The 23-year-old Israeli told police he had been doing a favour for a stranger.

“I don’t know the guy,” he told The Witness last Wednesday after being questioned by police and immigration officials from the Home Affairs Department.

“I met him on Tuesday in Durban, and because we are from the same country, he asked me to do him a favour and pick up some money he was owed by a family in Pietermaritzburg as he had to travel to Johannesburg,” he said.

However, the couple from Montrose alleged he was lying, and had been told that he was the “team leader”.

They say they had been approached by a man claiming to be an art student from Israel some time back who convinced them to purchase some of his paintings.

“One guy came to our gate a while ago, and showed me these lovely paintings. He told me he was a poor student, and preferred to sell the paintings from door to door as they feared being ripped off by art galleries,” Cookie Manikum told The Witness.

They were told the paintings ranged between R800 and R1 400 in price.

“I told him to come back when my husband was home, which he did,” she said.

“We then wrote out a cheque for R7 300 and bought six paintings from the guy,” Ronnie Manikum said, adding they had not been given receipts.

“What was strange was that the cheque was cashed immediately in the morning.”

They said their 23-year-old daughter alerted them that they could have been taken for a ride.

“I told our daughter that we’d just bought six lovely paintings from some Israeli art students, but also mentioned that we had not been given receipts,” said Cookie.

On doing some research, the daughter discovered that other people around the world in countries like the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand had been victims.

There had also been some victims in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

She found that similar paintings had been advertised online for prices ranging between $7,50 (R60) and $10 (R80), and had been mass produced in China. Just last week, an Israeli man and a Chilean woman were arrested in New Zealand for selling art from door to door.

Police allege buyers were being misled into believing the art was worth more than it was, the New Zealand Herald reported.

“We feel foolish for falling for this. We’ve been taken for a ride,” said Ronnie. “We paid R800 for paintings worth R80.”

After paying for the paintings, they got a call from one of the students, and were told that one of them would come to their home and frame the paintings for them. The frames would cost R9 000. However, the team leader would collect the money.

They decided to inform the police, and a sting was organised.

When the alleged team leader came to collect the money on Wednesday, the police arrived and questioned him. He then claimed he was doing a favour for a stranger from the same country by collecting the money.

He said he had been on a visitor’s permit and had recently applied for it to be extended as it had expired.

On arrival at the Home Affairs office, as he was being photographed by The Witness, he attempted to assault the reporter in front of the police, who restrained him.

It was confirmed that he had applied for an extension to his visitor’s permit, and was informed that he was not allowed to undertake any business in the country while on a visitor’s permit.

He was then released with a warning, and told that he would be arrested should he be caught “collecting money” again.

Later that day, he told The Witness he was just a tourist caught up in an unfortunate situation. “I have been in South Africa since November of last year, and I have been enjoying my holiday,” he said.

He said the incident had affected him because it was the first time he had ever been questioned by police.

Home Affairs spokesperson Manusha Pillai said anyone violating the conditions of a tourist visa can be arrested.

“The tourist visa allows the tourist to visit the Republic of South Africa for a holiday for a short period of time,” she said.

“The holder of the tourist visa is not allowed to perform any other activity other than being in South Africa as a tourist.”

If a tourist is arrested for violating those conditions, they may be prosecuted for contravening the Immigration Act, and may be deported and declared a prohibited person.

• lunga.biyela@witness.co.za

---

‘Witness’ readers speak out on door-to-door painting sellers

We asked Witness readers on our Facebook page if they had been approached by a group claiming to be art students from Israel.

This is what they said:

Amanda Jane Peddle: About 2 weeks ago. I stay in Wembley. She gave me a long story. Showed me her art. I was already outside when she came to my gate. I started to get suspicious when she kept asking to come in and see how they looked on my wall. I knew something was not right.

Allison Deysel: They are around Chase Valley area also. We have been approached (day and night) through the intercom but haven’t had discussions with them. Is it a scam/security threat or are they genuine?

Kimmi Stegen: I was leaving my parent’s place at about 6.30 pm or 7ish one evening and as I opened the gate and began to reverse, there was a man standing at the open gate. I immediately closed the gate again and only then went to see what he wanted. He showed me about two or three paintings claiming to be an art student from overseas and said that this was a project that him and some other students had undertaken to sell their paintings. I kept saying that I wasn’t interested. He then said that they were only in the area for the night and were leaving to go to Nel­spruit the next day and I should consider looking which paintings would match rooms in my house by taking them into the house. I said no thanks and that I was in a hurry and had to go. Just then my dad arrived home so I left and he moved on to the neighbour’s house.

Catherine Koch: Yes, two weeks ago, from a very persistent young lady, who made herself quite at home! I bought a painting from her for my daughter’s room.

Denbeigh Schlebusch: Yes about a month ago in Durban, Glen Anil area. A young man, he had about 15 paintings. I stood outside with him and looked over the gate.

He told me they were from R800 each and I said I did not have that kind of cash on me. He said he could come back and get it. He was quite persistent to come into the house and tell me which one would look best, which I declined. I told him to give me his number and if I was interested I would call him.

I got his number but did not call back.

Casey Gallagher: Yup, about two weeks ago in Wembley area off Kitchener Road. Some of my neighbours even bought the paintings, I very nearly did, but couldn’t come up with the money …

Patricia Rodel: I also had a unfortunate experience. They were in Ballito and were very very persistent. Luckily I had been forewarned. This young man would not take no for an answer and was quite prudent and kept at me for at least 15 minutes about buying his art, I eventually just closed the door on him.

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