'I nearly fell for gems scam'

2009-02-03 00:00

Beware of clever conmen who promise big bucks for minimal effort. That’s the warning from a usually sceptical Richmond farmer who called The Witness yesterday, saying he was grateful he bailed out of a slick scam before he lost a lot of money.

The farmer asked not to be named.

He said the con-artists he dealt with have targeted other farmers and asked that they especially be sensitised to the scam.

“I was phoned by a man who identified himself as a Zimbabwean who needed a middleman for a lucrative Tanzanite deal. He asked me to meet him, so I met Michael, and his accomplice Amos, in Durban on Monday. They explained that the man they used previously as their middleman had emigrated and their supplier had demanded that someone else was involved in the deal, as he did not trust them to do the deal alone.” He would be paid R120 000 commission for his involvement.

The farmer told The Witness that the men showed him what looked like four pieces of coal with a deep purple stone in the middle and told him this was the tanzanite. “It was very impressive. They said they had a buyer, a woman who was going to pay R680 000 for it.” The farmer was to meet the men in Durban yesterday to make the transaction and seal the deal.

However, he happened to mention it to a policeman friend of his. “He laughed at me and told me it was a scam. He said a farmer in Louis Trichardt area lost R1 million the same way.

“Another Richmond farmer was taken for R50 000. The policeman explained that the seller would refuse to give the tanzanite over unless a deposit was paid and that’s when Michael and Amos would ask me for the deposit, claiming that the buyer was waiting cash in hand and that I would be repaid immediately. Once I had paid up, we would drive to the place where the buyer was and Michael and Amos would jump out the car to look for her and would never be seen again.”

The farmer said that all the farmers involved had advertised agricultural implements on a website and it is assumed that their contact details were gleaned from there by the conmen.

“I asked my police friend if we should pursue it and catch these guys in some kind of sting operation, but he said the reality was that police had more important things to do and he asked if I really wanted to be tied to a court case for two to three years. It is very sobering.”

He said the other Richmond man, a game farmer, who lost money was promised by the alleged seller of the tanzanite — a Zambian man in a smart suit — that many clients would be brought to hunt on his game farm.

Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Henry Budhram said these scams are ongoing. “The general community is warned not to entertain any of these fraudsters. Cases are not registered due to the embarrassment it causes to the victims,” he said.

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