MXit 'an easy route to crime'
Pretoria - Criminals often obtain personal information about their victims on MXit, an instant messaging service for cellphones and computers.
Mike Bolhuis, an investigator who specialises in serious violent and economic crimes, said that most of the criminals who obtained their victims' details on MXit were young men between 20 and 30.
A statement issued by MXit said they often warned people of the dangers related to providing personal information in chat rooms.
"MXit has helped authorities track down criminals on several occasions. The amount of enquiries we get from criminals is nothing compared to the number of users we have.
Don't give out personal information
"The only way a criminal can get personal information, is if a person gives it to them themselves. The only way to stop this, is if users listen to warnings."
Bolhuis said he had discovered at least 20 cases this year in which men found their victims through MXit.
In about 80% of these cases, the men stole money to fund their drug habits, he said.
He also found cases where houses were robbed based on information received over MXit, girls were raped and several people had run off or had gone missing after meeting someone over MXit.
Bolhuis said he received between one and two cases per day where MXit was involved.
Bolhuis's most recent case was a 16-year-old girl from Pretoria who has been missing for six days.
A man was arrested earlier this week after breaking into a house in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria. He had met his victim on MXit and got hold of her address.
A great worry is that criminals use fake identities on MXit. The more the criminals speak to their victims, the more personal information the victims provide.
According to MXit, about nine million people use the messaging service.
"On MXit you can only receive messages from people you have accepted as your contacts.
"Criminals will use anything to commit crime. It is basically impossible to stop them. We can't determine the true identity and age of users as they register over the internet and may have many SIM cards. That is one of our biggest problems," the statement claims.
What do police say?
MXit is extremely dangerous, said police spokesperson Superintendent Leon Engelbrecht.
He said Nigerian syndicates and paedophiles used MXit to find their victims.
"Children, especially girls, use MXit to meet someone. The Nigerians and paedophiles abuse this. They introduce the children to drugs. It has happened that children were raped. Others were kidnapped and used as prostitutes."
Engelbrecht said people had to be very sure about the people they were communicating with.