Watch out for these car theft scams in South Africa

The South African Police Service (SAPS) has issued a warning around a new car theft scam targeting South Africans looking to buy vehicles through social media.

The SAPS said that it had received several reports in the past week where fraudsters defrauded people by posting advertisements for car sales on Facebook.

The fraudsters convince the unsuspecting people who are interested in buying the car to deposit a certain amount of money before the car can be delivered. The fraudsters will then withdraw the money and disappear without delivering the car, it said.

“We request the community to be vigilant, do proper research and not to rely on social media posts or advertisements when they want to buy a car or any other item. Most importantly, people are requested not to deposit or send money to people that they have never met,” said the provincial commissioner of Mpumalanga lieutenant general Semakaleng Manamela.

Insurers in South Africa have also warned motorists against posting personal information about themselves or their cars on social media.

Insurance group Hollard pointed to a growing scam where a motorist receives a call from the ‘dealership’ stating that the model is being recalled to fix a defect. The manufacturer will bear the cost, and it will be arranged for the vehicle to be collected.

This is inconvenient, but you agree and hand your vehicle over to the tow truck driver when he arrives.

Having heard nothing for a few days, you call the agent to follow up on the progress with your car, which informs you there is no recall and they never received the car.

How to tell if it is a scam

Car safety group Arrive Alive said that these scams often follow a similar modus operandi, making it easier to discern if they are legitimate.

Some of the most common signs that a deal is a scam include:

  • Victims are targeted via social media, and the ghost brokers forge insurance documents, change details on real insurance policies, or even cancel a holder’s policy without their knowledge and pocket the refund.
  • In a popular scam, the fraudulent buyer sends you a cheque with an additional amount to ship the car. You pay for the shipping, send the car and then the cheque bounces.
  • Scammers may demand the full price of the car, or a deposit, to be transferred immediately.
  • Once they have received money, they fail to release the vehicle and become difficult to contact.
  • The scammer may also ask for money in smaller amounts rather than all at once. At first, it’s a deposit, then a payment, then shipping.
  • Most often, scammers hide behind bogus email accounts that provide no information about their whereabouts.
  • They will refuse to provide sufficient contact details. The phone number provided is either faulty, remains unanswered or goes directly to voice mail.
  • Pricing of the vehicle is usually well below the market value.
  • Scammers often use sad stories to gain sympathy or encourage the buyer to make a snap decision based on a hard-luck story. These include claiming to be deployed by the military, claiming they have lost their job and will not be able to pay rent without selling their car.
  • Identical photos are listed on dozens of sites across the country as scammers use the same photo repeatedly, with multiple victims.

Read: Incoming rules to impact people who drive for a living in South Africa

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Watch out for these car theft scams in South Africa