Fraudsters wise up

2012-12-07 00:00

SOPHISTICATED crooks and even shrewder lawyers are raising the stakes in the unending battle against white-collar crime.

Two experts who closely monitor South Africa’s fraud and corruption epidemic said commercial crime “was out of control”.

Wendy O’Brien, state advocate with the Specialised Commercial Crime Unit in Durban, and Keith Flack, acting head of the Hawks commercial crime division in KwaZulu-Natal, gave revealing insights yesterday into the cases passing through their courts.

They were speaking at the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

O’Brien touched on some of the cases being prosecuted, among them the so-called Yummy Mummy gang, which stole people’s identities, and the casino con artist exposed in The Witness this week. The gang was so sophisticated that in one case it convinced a drug addict to pose both as a pilot in full uniform and an insurance salesman in order to rip off banks.

“They were the scourge of the banks,” said O’Brien.

Without mentioning names, she said the ringleader was being prosecuted in Cape Town and would be brought before the courts in Durban thereafter.

She also told the gathering about the woman arrested last week for running scams in casinos, where she picked vulnerable people and convinced them she could boost their winnings with a psychic.

The other major concern was pyramid schemes, and O’Brien talked about a group that raised R4,5 million in two days, offering people returns up to seven times more than their investment.

Prosecuting white-collar crime was one thing, said O’Brien, but beating the defence attorneys who use the Constitution to challenge on technicalities was another.

She said her colleagues called such lawyers “CPDAs” — in other words they confuse, postpone, delay and avoid.

“It helps to have strong magistrates and judges to recognise these delays for what they are,” said O’Brien.

Flack dwelt on a handful of cases in which the criminals worked in offices and used their access to bank accounts to carry out their deeds.

Most were women employed as bookkeepers or in similar administrative positions.

As a specialist forensic accountant with eight years’ experience in the defunct Scorpions, Flack said “the days of trusting people implicitly are over”. He urged businesses to employ strict controls over their payments.

The case studies he cited followed a trend in which the employees responsible for making payments would create fictitious creditors and pay the money to themselves or a family member. In some instances, the perpetrators were more brazen and simply put money in their own accounts.

Flack said it was vital that companies who discovered theft or fraud pursued criminal action, so the courts could send out a strong message that white collar crime did not pay.

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