Con artists target the elderly

2013-08-14 00:00

SCAM artists, masquerading as Eskom employees, have been trying to get to get into the homes of pensioners.

The con artists appear to be trying to get credit card details or are attempting to get a detailed layout of the houses and security measures.

Community police forums (CPF) and security companies have received reports of the scam in Durban North, Glenashley, Kloof, Hillcrest and Waterfall.

This is how the scam works:

• The pensioners first receive a phone call from a person purporting to be an accredited Eskom solar renewable energy agent.

• They then set up appointments to meet the pensioners in the evening and at their homes.

• Once there they take photographs of the interior and exterior of the houses, and promise huge discounts on solar installations.

Pensioner Heather Schneemann (67) from Waterfall said she was promised a saving of R70 000 off her electricity bill over five years if she bought their product.

“They phoned about a month ago for the fourth time after having missed three appointments. The woman on the phone pleaded with me. She said she was accredited with Eskom.

“She knew my address and my name. She arrived at 5.30 pm. It was dark outside. She was in her 30s, neatly presentable, with Mediterranean features and was effervescent and flamboyant.

“She wore a name badge and presented me with a document explaining what they do. On closer inspection of the document, it was so broad they could have been offering anything for sale.”

Schneemann said she wanted to consider various options but the woman was very pushy.

“She then asked for my bank details, at which point I became concerned, but I never felt physically threatened,” said Schneemann.

She said when the salesperson could not convince her, the woman phoned “the boss”, who said he would reduce the price of the installation by R4 000 if she gave him the last four digits on her credit card.

She refused and 45 minutes later she walked the woman out of the house to her car in the driveway.

“I believe the man she had been talking to on the phone had been sitting in the car the whole time.

“I felt very uncomfortable after the entire event. The next day I contacted a family friend who came and inspected my home and its security,” said Schneemann.

Bear Hansen (58), a professional artist living in Waterfall, said he was contacted by a woman last week, offering similar deals concerning electricity.

“A woman asked if she could come around and see my house to talk about saving electricity. They never identified themselves on the phone or said why I was contacted, except for the fact that I could save power. They also phoned my neighbour. I told them ‘no thanks’,” said Hansen.

His neighbour, a woman in her 80s who did not want to be named, said the telesales agent identified the team as staff from Eskom.

“I was told they would send three women, one who was African and the other two being Indian and white,” said the woman.

Darryn le Grange, managing director of the Durban-based Blue Security, said there had been two armed robberies in Durban North in recent months where gangs had posed as municipal workers who had come to read the electricity meter.

In a separate recent incident in Hillcrest, a man who claimed to work for the municipality was arrested for trespassing after he was caught taking photographs of a property.

In a separate issue, Le Grange said the company had also received numerous complaints about a company claiming to be accredited by Eskom and that offered to help residents save energy costs.

However, he said it was unclear whether the company was registered with Eskom to provide the service.

Several community policing forums from Durban North to Hillcrest reported similar incidents at homes.

Monica Bruun, chairperson of the Hillcrest CPF, said they have put out an alert.

“Most people simply put their phone down, but we have had no report of an actual robbery. It’s obviously a scam. No one ever comes out from Eskom,” said Bruun.

Kloof CPF chairperson Corne Broodryk said the scam is identical to another scam prevalent several years ago.

“From the reports we have received, these people are not uniformed and their vehicles do not have Eskom decals. Most people just tell them to walk.

“However, there are legitimate businesses that phone and make an appointment, and they come and replace all your bulbs with energy-saving ones free of charge,” said Broodryk.

Eskom spokesperson Nhlanhla Madlala said while they had received reports of “people claiming to be Eskom employees and trying to gain entrance to people’s homes”, they had not received any report suggesting it had resulted in criminality.

• jonathan.erasmus@witness.co.za

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