‘Arrest warrant’ scam targeting drivers in South Africa

 ·2 Nov 2020

Civil society group Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) has warned drivers about a scam where fraudsters exploit ‘enforcement orders’ issued in terms of the Aarto Act.

JPSA chairperson Howard Dembovsky said that criminals operate at registering authorities and driving licence testing centres in Johannesburg and Tshwane to execute the scam.

Unwitting motorists are usually approached while they are queuing or when they are turned away at service counters. Often, they are approached before they even enter the licensing facility’s grounds and offered ‘assistance’, he said.

Soon after providing their driving licence card to the scammers, the motorists are presented with a printout of their Aarto infringements and told to settle all of them immediately, in cash. False claims of warrants of arrest are also used to increase the urgency, as are discounts used to sweeten the deal, if they pay now.

“They can be very convincing, especially when they approach unwitting motorists who just want to renew their vehicle licence disc or driving licence card with the minimum of fuss and delay,” Dembovsky said.

“While this phenomenon is not new, the sharp increase in the volume of enforcement orders issued by the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) recently has greatly aggravated the situation. Even a single enforcement order electronically blocks licensing transactions.”

The JPSA head stressed that there is no warrant of arrest under Aarto – and the 50% discount which is provided for if a fine is paid within 32 days of the actual or presumed service of an infringement notice cannot be reinstated once it has been forfeited.

No warrant of arrest

In response to the rise in scams, a RTIA spokesperson told EWN that motorists cannot be issued with a warrant of arrest for failing to pay their traffic fines.

The agency said that this provision has been removed from the Aarto Act and the only way that law enforcement could get motorists to pay their outstanding fines was through issuing enforcement orders.

The agency said that motorists are given more than 60 days to resolve a traffic fine, after which, a formal notice is sent, followed by an enforcement letter.

This makes it more difficult to obtain a driver’s licence or to register a vehicle. The RTIA warned motorists not to fall for scammers.

“There is absolutely no possibility of a road user being issued with a warrant of arrest to resolve an Aarto fine. Road users are asked to please contact the RTIA.”

What to do

Once a person has been scammed, he or she is offered little or no assistance by the licensing authorities, Dembovsky said.

They are usually referred to the SA Police Service and, in many cases, find themselves being turned away by SAPS officials who tend to say: “No crime has occurred because you willingly gave your money to these people”.

This is simply not true. All victims of fraud “willingly” give their money to scammers, he said.

“The authorities have been aware of these problems for many years. Although I have served on various ‘security committees’ convened by the City of Johannesburg to tackle this issue, none of them have met this year, and it seems they have been abandoned,” he said.

Dembovsky said that with the intended national implementation of the Aarto Amendment Act, the ‘electronic service’ envisioned in the new regulations will likely provide new opportunities for online scammers – who run very little risk of being arrested, as may be the case with those who physically lurk at licensing centres.

The only way for motorists to mitigate the risk of falling prey to these scams is to deal with traffic fines properly. Motorists can check their Aarto fines status online, after which they should seek to resolve them.

“Although there are other platforms, JPSA advises that if one wishes to pay an Aarto fine or enforcement order, doing so at the Checkers Money Market counter or online at payCity. We further advise that motorists avoid paying cash to anyone and especially not to accept ‘assistance’ from individuals that they do not know.”

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