Beach house rental scam

2009-01-16 00:00

The commercial crimes unit are investigating a swindle in which people have been conned out of deposits for holiday homes from Ballito in KwaZulu-Natal to Bakoven in the Cape.

In the most extensive scam, a conman advertises holiday homes on the popular website www.gumtree.co.za. As soon as prospective holidaymakers have paid the deposit, all contact is broken off and they never see their money again.

The website has now removed the ads.

The swindler appears to prefer payment options that minimise his chances of being traced, like Absa’s CashSend option. And he even uses the same photograph with different ads.

One of the victims, Avalon van der Heever (44) of Salt Rock lost R1 000 for a “holiday home” in Bakoven. He subsequently started placing warnings on similar advertisements on the website and at the same time warned the swindler that the net was closing in on him.

The upshot was an SMS warning from the swindler that he would see to it that Van der Heever’s business folded. This was followed by an advertisement in which a woman purported to be seeking men’s services, giving Van der Heever’s cell and work phone numbers as contact numbers.

An ad suggesting that Van der Heever and his wife are paedophiles was also placed on the Internet.

Van der Heever said that between 20 and 30 victims have already contacted him. One of them is Mark Arnold, a Johannesburg restaurant owner, who has also confirmed losing R1 000. A Pretoria family lost nearly R9 000 after responding to an advertisement in Junk Mail for a luxury holiday home in Ballito at the beginning of November.

The ad was placed by “Dr Nico Strydom”, who claimed to be a vet. The home was to be let at R2 500 a day and a 50% cash deposit was required up front, Lida Coetzer said. Unlike in the case of the Gumtree ads, he provided an FNB cheque account number and branch code. It was later discovered that the account was held at the Centurion branch in Pretoria.

Strydom stated that his time was “terribly tight” because of his profession and that he would, therefore, like to finalise the booking as soon as possible.

“It looked very good on the photographs,” said Coetzer. “There was a swimming pool and even a chef.

“My husband even remarked, ‘These photos are almost too good to be true’.” She commented to Strydom that it was rather strange that the sun appeared to be setting over the sea in Ballito, since that does not happen, but he was ready with an answer: he had got someone to spruce up his photos a bit.

The Coetzers then paid the deposit of R8 875. It was quiet for almost a week, with Strydom not responding to any messages.

Then he suddenly contacted them and asked for an e-mail address to which to send confirmation of the deposit. He would also e-mail them the address of the holiday home and even send an aerial photograph.

Then everything went quiet.

From conversations with many holiday home victims, it became evident yesterday that several similar scams ran parallel with the Gumtree fraud.

One of these was at Langebaan, where Anton Langenhoven (47) was arrested on December 28, according to Langebaan police spokesperson Inspector Pieter Lotz. By yesterday, 23 charges of fraud had been laid against him in connection with the alleged scam.

It was reliably learned yesterday that since December last year, investigations into fraud on Gumtree have been a priority for the Bellville commercial crimes unit, the only unit in the country currently investigating electronic fraud.

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