A con artist has apparently been targeting car hijacking victims across the country by sending them text messages requesting money in exchange for the cars’ location.
A Phoenix family almost fell prey to the scam after enduring a traumatising hijacking at an Overport cemetery.
Grieving families visiting grave sites have become vulnerable prey for criminals, said Satish Dhupelia, chairman of the Sydenham Community Policing Forum, as well as Logan Chetty, chairman of the KZN Funeral Directors’ Association.
The Phoenix family relayed their ordeal to the Daily News on Thursday, on condition of anonymity.
A schoolteacher, her husband and two young daughters had gone to the cemetery in Overport on Wednesday after completing back-to-school shopping in the city centre.
Her husband had parked their silver-grey Golf GTi on the side of the road and the family had been reciting verses from the Qur’an when they were approached by three men.
“At first I saw two men on the road but didn’t think much of them. At the grave I lifted my hands in prayer and at the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of three men.
“They ran and pointed guns at us. They said we would not be harmed. One of them patted me down to check if I had a handbag or purse.
“I felt disgusted,” she said.
One of the men started the car while the other two waited with the family. She said they pushed the gun into her husband’s chest and asked him if he had a tracker and a firearm.
After the men fled, the family ran to a nearby school for help. The men had also stolen money and her husband’s cellphone.
The teacher said she had sent out a WhatsApp alert to her family who then spread her message on other social media platforms in an attempt to find the car.
Hours after their hijacking, the teacher said she received a text saying their car was at a panelbeater in Durban’s Point area and that the car would be crossing the border once the respray was completed.
She became sceptical when she was asked for money in exchange for the car’s location. After a series of back-and-forth texts, the person on the other end stopped the chat with a profanity when the teacher apparently tried to persuade him to divulge information on the condition of the car and when she asked what bank she should deposit the money into.
“The children’s school shopping, my purse with all our cards and some other valuables were in the car.
“We have not slept much since the incident and are traumatised but relieved that we were not harmed,” she said.
Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane, provincial police spokesman, confirmed the incident. He said a case of car hijacking had been opened at the Sydenham police station.
According to Allistair Singo, vehicle tracking company Altech Netstar’s spokesman, this type of scam was also used in Gauteng and sometimes the message sender claimed to be a policeman.
“He often asks the tracking company to pay him or asks the victim to buy him airtime in some cases in exchange for the car’s location. Once we traced the number to an informal housing settlement in Pretoria but were unsuccessful in finding the messenger.
“We urge the public not to fall for these scams,” Singo said.
Dhupelia said the police and the CPF were aware of hijackings near the Overport cemetery.
He said the police had made alternative parking arrangements for those visiting the cemetery and the local mosque.
Dhupelia also said the police had deployed unmarked vehicles to patrol the area. CPF and neighbourhood residents were doing the same, he said.
“However, in the past few days we have seen two hijackings in that area and also others in areas such as West and Sherringham Road in Overport, Shepstone Road in Westville as well as Danjelo Place and Drewstead Road in Reservoir Hills. This does give rise to concern,” he said
Chetty said there were many incidents of robbery at cemeteries in the past two years. It was not only mourners who were being targeted but undertakers too, he said. Criminals stole expensive equipment that was used to lower people into the graves, he said.
Chetty said there should more security deployed at cemeteries across Durban.
Satish Dhupelia, of the Sydenham CPF, urged the public to take precautions to prevent being a hijacking victim such as:
* Keeping your vehicle locked when driving.
* Being alert near gates, driveways and parking lots and driving off if approached by unknown people or if you notice unknown cars parked close to
your house with people inside.
* Not parking in places and texting or reading – be aware of your surroundings and drive to a point of safety such as the nearest police station or a public
garage if you feel threatened.
* Not stopping if people try to signal you that there is something wrong with your vehicle by pointing at the tyres, etc.
* Drive off to the nearest safe spot and then examine your car.
* Being careful when withdrawing large sums of money because you could be robbed or hijacked when going to your car as criminals use spotters.
* Park in a well lit place where there is security and if you notice anyone following you or loitering around your car, inform the police or the bank security immediately.
Additional reporting by Mphathi Nxumalo