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WhatsApp stokvels: How fraudsters use group chats to steal money

Most of them are managed by unknown administrators who facilitate the exchange of money.

It’s a straightforward operation with promises of big returns. Picture: Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG - Victims of the so-called WhatsApp stokvels have described a web of lies and scamming by fraudsters who have stolen money from vulnerable people, especially the unemployed.

These groups have been around for a while but seem to have been popularised through social media.

Most of them are managed by unknown administrators who facilitate the exchange of money.

It’s a straightforward operation with promises of big returns. Much like a pyramid scheme, the sustainability of a WhatsApp stokvel rests squarely on the recruitment of new people.

But as the old adage goes: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Embarrassed and angry, one man told EWN that he paid R200 but after a month, the administrators left the WhatsApp group without saying a word.

“I texted the girl who received my R200 contribution, but she said she didn’t receive my money.”

Another victim said he recruited his unemployed friend but they each ended up R1,500 poorer.

“As soon as I paid, I noticed I was alone in the group. They were gone.”

The National Stokvel Association of South Africa shared concerns regarding this practice and urged those who were conned to go to the authorities.

The association has warned South Africans of fraudsters using social media to lure victims under the guise of traditional and trusted saving schemes.

People recruited to transfer money electronically and those first in line, reap the rewards with a quick cash windfall.

A woman said she recently joined a WhatsApp group and made more than R4,000.

“It’s been an awesome experience. There has been an alert with a person making a payment and then later reversing the payment.”

The association said new methods in pursuit of a quick buck were undermining the legitimacy of traditional stokvels, which were based on trust, rules and regular meetings.

“Young people are trying to take a shortcut to make a quick buck,” CEO Andrew Lukhele said.

Those who’ve fallen victim to the scam can go to the police, but with most of the groups made up of strangers, it may be harder to trace the swindlers.

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