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Pretoria - Jacques and Luciann Bezuidenhout were all set to move into their new three-bedroom house in Moreleta Park this week.
They had signed the rental agreement, given notice at their previous home, received the keys to the house in Lara Street and were about to pay the R7 500 deposit.
Kyle Jones, father of a 5-year-old son, was also due to move this week. He paid his R7 500 deposit to move into a three-bedroom house in Lara Street. He had signed the contract and was given a set of keys to the house.
Yet another desperate house-seeker, Danny Miller, sold his house and was planning to move into the same house.
He had paid a R7 000 deposit and would have moved in this weekend.
These three families had no idea they were all paying for the same house situated at 1171 Lara Street.
They were also not the only ones who thought they had found new accommodation from May 1.
At least 15 people had rented the same house and most of them had paid the deposit before realising there was something wrong.
“Several people arrived with their removal vans and their children on the same day, only to realise they had been defrauded,” Jones said at the Brooklyn police station on Friday where several of the victims have opened cases of fraud.
It turns out that two suspects known as Tshepo Maloka and Harry Danwoody advertised the house on Lara Street on Gumtree’s website and rented it out to more than a dozen families, duping them all out of thousands of rands.
The advert also appeared in the Rekord newspaper and on Junkmail’s website.
“Gumtree has since removed the advert but then they just place adverts on different platforms,” Jones said.
The group of unhappy victims said at least 20 people were given keys to the same house. Several more had gone to view the house and were in the process of paying their deposits.
“There was a single mother with two small children who arrived to move in and had nowhere else to go,” one neighbour said.
The owner of the house, a Nigerian woman living in Joburg, was unaware that her house was being used in an elaborate scam.
“She had rented the place out to Maloka, who then started renting the place out fraudulently,” Jones said, adding that he had since had the bank account into which they had paid their deposits frozen.
Maloka and Danwoody allegedly struck a deal with the owner’s estate agent Pinky Mokoena and paid her more than R20 000 a month to be part of the scam.
The truth came out when the Bezuidenhouts spent more time viewing the place and bumped into another family who also had keys to the house.
“They (the other family) said they had rented the place and I said that we had rented the place. That’s when we realised we had been conned,” Luciann said.
She then tracked all the victims down and informed them.
She also put up a notice on the gate, warning potential victims.
The gardener, who lives on the property, was the one who arranged viewing times with all the families on behalf of Maloka and Danwoody so that they wouldn’t meet each other and discover the truth.
The suspects are still at large and none of the victims had met them because they were always “out of town”.
All the “tenants” now have to find somewhere to live.
Miller is renting his old house from the new owner at a higher rate than what he was paying when it was still his property.
“I will never look for a house on the internet again,” he said.
Jones spent R18 000 to find a new place at short notice.
“I know now what it feels like not to have a roof over my child’s head. I am opening a case so that other people with small children do not fall victim to this,” he said.
Luciann and her husband have arranged to stay in their present house until they can find somewhere to live.
“You always hear about these things but you never think it will happen to you,” she said.
Since the scam was uncovered, another victim, Shaun Janse van Noordwyk, has moved into the house with his family, saying he has the right to live there because he has paid.
The owner of the house has since also returned to the house.
Captain Colette Weilbach of the Brooklyn police urged other victims to open cases at the Garsfontein police station.
“The more people open cases, the stronger our case will be,” Luciann said.
Victims can contact Garsfontein police on 012 369 6900 or 082 461 6337 where a case has been opened.