Con artist preys on pensioners

2012-07-04 00:00

A CON artist has been preying on people in retirement homes, gaining access to their bedrooms to steal cash, jewellery and documents.

Her latest strike was at noon yesterday, at Azalea Gardens on Alexandra Road in Pietermaritzburg.

She stole a handbag from the bedroom of Hazel McDonald (75) containing her credit cards, ID book, and driver’s licence.

Victims described her as a confidence trickster who used name-dropping and posed as a “medical assistant” from the Pietermaritzburg and District Council for the Care of the Aged (Padca), conducting a survey.

“I’ve lost everything, except my gold chain,” Ruth Beattie (76) told The Witness, referring to jewellery her daughter was to inherit.

Among it were two diamond rings.

The woman even persuaded Beattie to let her massage her neck.

“I was sitting watching television and my door was opened,” said Beattie, recalling when she saw the woman at her Evergreen Retirement Village home in Chase Valley on Saturday.

She started asking about medication and mentioned clothing and shoe vouchers she claimed Padca was offering. She also spoke fondly of the previous occupant of her unit. Minutes later the woman was in her bedroom.

“She asked me if I had any headaches or anything … I did have a sore neck and she said she’d rub it for me.”

Then the trickster complained of a headache. “She asked if I could give her tablets,” said Beattie.

She said she wasn’t comfortable leaving her in the bedroom to fetch a tablet from the kitchen, but didn’t want to be rude because she had said she was from Padca.

Meanwhile, the “medical assistant” helped herself to her jewellery.

Beattie only became suspicious when the woman left, saying she was going to fetch the vouchers.

She then discovered her jewellery and her purse had vanished.

The impact only hit her on Monday.

“I broke down,” she said.

Magdalene Seele (93) and Marianne Hellberg (81) shared a story of a similar incident on Friday — the day before Beattie’s experience at Lutheran Gardens, Hayfields.

Seele had been baking bread when the swindler walked in, then talked her way into her bedroom.

Once there, Seele recalled: “She told me that she heard a buzzer in the kitchen and I went to sprinkle some water on the bread.” She left Seele’s house, supposedly to fetch vouchers, taking R600 cash, her identity document, Padca membership card, credit card, two chequebooks and cellphone.

The woman had also asked Seele to sign a register to show proof that she had visited her.

Hellberg was asleep when the confidence trickster arrived.

“She came in and said, ‘Hello, sweetheart’… I didn’t appreciate her going to my bedroom. I felt she was intruding.”

Claiming to need to measure the heels of her shoes, she asked Hellberg for a ruler. “That’s when I got irritated,” said Hellberg.

“She would have taken something if I had gone to fetch the ruler.”

Seele and Hellberg said they were cross with themselves that they did not ask for the trickster’s ID card.

The woman then left, supposedly to fetch the vouchers.

Padca chief executive officer Hillary Mumford insisted that Padca had never conducted a survey.

“It is very sad that senior citizens are abused in this manner — evidence of the moral decline of society, which should honour and respect it seniors.”

She was disturbed that the woman had used Padca’s name.

“We want to warn all people living in retirement complexes and anywhere else, especially if on their own, to ask for identification and verification of their purpose before allowing anyone into their homes, and if there is a ‘free offer’ of any sort to be especially vigilant,” Mumford warned.

She said staff wear a uniform and badges with Padca’s logo with the staffer’s name and position.

The police are investigating.

No arrests have been made.

• gabisile.ngcobo@witness.co.za

BIG Brother was watching the con artist who has preyed on elderly people. The black-and-white CCTV camera footage from Lutheran Gardens shows her and an accomplice arriving at the gate in a light-coloured VW City Golf with a damaged, dark bonnet.

The car parked in front of the gate. She sat in the back.

“She got out and went around the console to press the button to call someone when another car came, which obviously had a remote and pressed it,” said Karl Lichtenberg, who is on the security committee.

They entered at 12.25 pm on Friday and left at 1.23 pm.

“We haven’t had any major incidents like this for years,” said Lichtenberg.

“We are fortunate that way, but we now know we have to tighten security.”

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