Hunt is on for Gadget Gang

2016-01-20 15:18
Screengrab from Scottsville Primary School CCTV footage taken during the school’s burglary early on Monday morning. The same gang is believed to be responsible for two other school computer heists.

Screengrab from Scottsville Primary School CCTV footage taken during the school’s burglary early on Monday morning. The same gang is believed to be responsible for two other school computer heists. (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg - Schools have been warned to lock down their equipment after yet another institution was robbed of over 30 ­computers.

Since Sunday at least 100 ­computers, with a replacement value in excess of R1 million, have been stolen from three former model C schools.

The sudden surge in crime has jolted the police to set up a special task team to investigate what appears to be a syndicate targeting affluent schools and looting them of cash and equipment.

Athlone Primary School was the ­latest to be hit, on Monday night, with Scottsville Primary the night before and Bisley Park Primary on Saturday evening. All the burglaries were near identical, with the same modus ­operandi (see graphic).

And the security companies ­managing the alarm systems at the schools are baffled by how the gang, nicknamed the Gadget Gang, entered the schools without triggering the alarms.

Pietermaritzburg police yesterday set up a 70-strong task team to ­investigate the burglaries.

Pietermaritzburg SAPS ­spokesperson Sergeant Mtokozisi ­Ngobese said the Umungundlovu south cluster commander Major-General Lucas Ngobeni had tasked the ­“Recovery Task Team” to arrest the burglars and recover the stolen loot.

“This unit has just been established. We appeal to everyone with any ­information to come forward. We want to deal with these criminals,” said ­Ngobese.

Computer retailers have said that, judging by what was stolen, the ­computer stacks would probably be stripped and the parts sold off ­individually into the informal market.

PMB Computer Services said the cost of replacing the computers would be in excess of R1,1 million, while ­Prosyscom’s Mike Findley said the sale of the second-hand parts on the black market would produce a fraction of the replacement value.

“They would not be able to sell the computers to the established stores. We wouldn’t buy them as there is no warranty, so they would need to sell them into the informal market. They would need to sell the items for ­considerably less than they are valued at,” he said.

Findley said selling them as ­complete units would be difficult as all casings have serial numbers leading back to the original owners.

Pietermaritzburg Security’s technical manager Nowellin Whiteman said it would be a “ game changer” in the industry if criminals were able to deactivate alarms. The company is responsible for Bisley Park’s alarm system.

“[Today] we will be analysing their system in order to get a better idea of what happened. We are also speaking to our suppliers to work out what could have gone wrong,” he said.

Red Alert manages both Athlone and Scottsville primary schools’ alarm ­systems. The company’s Rob ­Anderson, who The Witness had ­attempted to reach since Monday, did not respond to messages left.

Education Department ­spokesperson Sihle Mlotshwa said they would tell their districts to alert schools to the trend.

Athlone school principal Gerrit Coetzee said the thieves stole all but one computer, totalling 31. They also stole sugar and coffee. “We have an alarm, but nothing went off. All school communication is now down and they took our CCTV system with them. We will have to communicate with the parents via letters for now. Thankfully most of our valuable data is hosted on a cloud server,” he said.

The burglars entered the school by dislodging a gate and driving their ­vehicle in. They then broke down doors to get into the computer room and ­administrative block.

Anyone with information regarding the burglaries has been asked to contact Sergeant Mtokozisi Ngobese at 082 826 8954.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  computers  |  gadget gang  |  theft

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