Vehicle licensing fraud up

2015-10-19 12:52
Vehicle examiner Brian Jeary takes a photo of the VIN number of a vehicle with a Computerised Roadworthy Testing and Verification System (CRWTV) device at the ABS Test Centre.

Vehicle examiner Brian Jeary takes a photo of the VIN number of a vehicle with a Computerised Roadworthy Testing and Verification System (CRWTV) device at the ABS Test Centre. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - Fraud in the vehicle licensing industry has flourished again after the KZN Department of Transport restructured its Vehicle Technical Compliance unit.

Industry experts say a “gaping hole” is being exploited by fraudsters after the Vehicle Technical Compliance unit was refocused.

Set up in 2004 to investigate fraud at vehicle testing centres, the team had successfully closed eight centres throughout the province and deregistered over 50 vehicle examiners.

However, since the team’s operations were refocused in July, there has been an “upsurge” of fraud in the vehicle licensing industry across the province, to the extent of culprits advertising their illegal services blatantly over SMS.

The fraudulent issuing of Certificates of Roadworthiness (COR) and Certificates of Fitness (COF) was now rife in the province, with the problem being passed “like a hot potato” between the department and the police.

According to the unit’s former operational head Kim Lee, who now manages the ABS Test Centre in Mkondeni, some testing stations in the province are still facilitating the process of acquiring the certificates illegally.

“It is a simple procedure. One just needs to take a picture of their vehicle’s license disc and forward it to a contact in the testing centre along with the driver’s details. Money is then paid into a Checkers account,” Lee said.

“A test sheet is then generated once you have paid. Your vehicle is passed on the eNatis system without being tested or even entering the test centre’s property”, he said.

Along with the fraudulent activity being a main cause behind a spate of motor vehicle accidents in the country, industry experts say it also derails the allocation of the national transport budget to each province.

According to Lee, as of July this year, there were 1,5 million cars recorded in KZN as opposed to an estimated figure of 1,6 million due to owners registering their vehicles in other provinces like Mpumalanga, where the licensing fee is cheaper.

“This causes about a R50 million loss of return revenue to the province for licensing fees each year,” Lee said.

The Witness conducted its own investigation and found some staff at vehicle testing centres are brazenly advertising their services via SMS.

One message, traced back to a test centre in Durban, offered the certificates for around R1 000.

“Contact me for your COR or COF, done same day, COR for cars or bakkies R1 000, COF for combies R1 100, COF for trucks R1 250,” the message read.

The Witness also went undercover to a known dealer of certificates who operates right outside the Mkondeni licensing department in Pietermaritzburg.

When the man was asked for “help” with a COR certificate for the reporter’s vehicle, the man called his “contact” in a Pietermaritzburg-based vehicle testing centre.

However, the reporter was denied any assistance, as the man said his contact was in a meeting at the time.

In the profession for almost two decades, a traffic officer who asked not to be named, said the problem of COFs obtained illegally for trucks is a cause for greater concern.

“We see dozens of trucks that come down Peter Brown Drive that are found to be unroadworthy even though they have updated certificates,” the officer said.

Asiphephe Testing Centre owner Naeem Shaik said with more and more people obtaining these certificates illegally, legitimate centres are losing business.

“Financially it drains a business as we do things by the book. With a fewer amount of vehicles, our business, for example, has seen a 35% drop in business in the past six months.”

Department of Transport spokesperson Nathi Sukazi said they are aware of the on-going issue of fraud and corruption in terms of COR and the cloning of vehicle registrations.

According to Sukazi, the department have called on the Hawks to assist in tracking the perpetrators from KwaZulu-Natal and other provinces like Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape and Gauteng, where KZN motorists are allegedly obtaining the cloned registration numbers.

However, there may be light at the end of the tunnel if a newly-developed application that is being piloted in Pietermartizburg is a success.

A first of its kind for the country, the application, stored on an average mobile tablet device, allows staff at vehicle testing centres to electronically document tests, applicants’ information and vehicle faults, before storing the data online where it cannot be altered.

Developed by software company Data-Re, the application — dubbed Computerised Roadworthy Testing and Verification System (CRWTV) — comes as a desperate attempt to curb the epidemic of fraudulent vehicle certificates in the country.

Currently being piloted at the ABS Test Centre in Mkondeni, CRWTV replicates the current paper-based testing process, but is completely electronic.

Vehicle and driver information is collected from scanning the barcoded documents, is geo-tagged to its location, and goes through an electronic verification check where pictures are taken of each car part being inspected.

All information, including the test results, is stored in a central database, ensuring the data is fully auditable

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  vehicle  |  licence

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