The deal seems too good to be true. All you have to do is help seemingly legitimate businessmen sell their goods. “I don’t want my buyers to meet my sellers, or I won’t be able to be a middleman,” you’re told.
But little do you know that this is just the start of a long-con that has been going on in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs for months, maybe even years.
Eyewitness News had the chance to meet one of these suspected swindlers last week, where a dearth of information on how they operated was revealed.
The group has done their homework. They contact you, knowing you have extra money to spare based on the success of your business.
One of the numerous victims of these conmen has told Eyewitness News that they knew intimate details about his agricultural business, and that they had an idea of how much he’d be willing to hand over as a deposit.
That first phone call leads to the first meeting, where the details of the deal are laid out. According to the man, he represents a consortium of businessmen from out of the country. The country differs with each meeting - Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe. Either way, these businessmen have a steady supply of leather products, copper, sapphires and other semi-precious stones that they want to sell in South Africa.
Here’s where you come in. The man wants you to be the middle-man between his sellers – the consortium – and his buyers – local businesses in the West Rand.
This way, he can claim you are the sellers of the goods, and that way he won’t have to work on commission and can raise prices sufficiently to ensure a profit for everyone involved.
The previous victim who contacted Eyewitness News said that in the import/export business, this wasn’t an unusual practice, which is why he went ahead with the plan.
The gems and leather have all allegedly been approved by customs and SARS, but when Eyewitness News asked for proof through documentation, the man was unwilling to hand them over – at least not until we had gone to see the products.
All the man asks of you is to come with him to his suppliers, pick up the goods and meet with the buyer to sell them. All transactions will be in cash.
But for the man who was swindled out of more than R30 000, it wasn’t that easy. He had numerous meetings with the buyers, and was eventually informed that when he went to pick up the goods, there would be no need to pay for the supplies until they had already been sold.
Going to pick up the leather goods and stones at a Northern suburbs warehouse, the intended victim was told that the deal was incorrect. If he wasn’t able to provide a deposit, then that was it – deal’s off. But after weeks of negotiation, a deposit of R30 000 didn’t sound too bad, at least not for the massive returns he was promised.
Shortly after transferring the money, he could no longer get in touch with his ‘contacts’, and his money was gone before the deal had even gone ahead.
It sounds like a simple plan and one where you’d be able to chase the perpetrators. But months since our victim was conned out of tens of thousands of rand, police still have not managed to capture the men, who are still operating in the Northern suburbs.
Whether the conmen have managed to swindle anyone else remains unknown, as the last meeting attended by Eyewitness News, came to an abrupt end when the intended victim told the alleged conmen that he was uncomfortable with the deal.
Police spokeswoman Katlego Mogale has said that investigations are still under way, but has not given any insight into the status of the investigation.
However, investigators have warned business owners to be wary of these pipe-dream deals, and that any deal that sounds too good to be true – probably is.