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‘Common’ scam left woman, 71, in tatters

Johannesburg - A 71-year-old Norwood woman has been left almost destitute by a fraud scam that a security consultant says remains all too common.

Mary Cox* believed that the business deal she was entering into would allow her to supplement her meagre pension. The deal seemed legitimate as she was introduced to her scammers by a trusted friend, and the contract was drawn up by a lawyer at his offices. Cox was told that she would be an investor in a scrap metal recycling plant, which was allegedly already operational.

“(We) negotiated and he promised me that if I invest money in the business, he would give me 50 percent of the whole business – and if it didn’t work, I could get my money back, plus interest,” said Cox.

She was also promised that within the first month, her new “business partner” would pay the bond on her house.

After consultations with her contact’s lawyer, she agreed to hand over R200 000 in four instalments, with the contract suggesting she would be paid her share of the profits after just one month.

The deal that seemed too good to be true turned out to be a farce. After transferring the money, she waited for any news on her investment.

But a month later, she still hadn’t received any money, and after a few promises from the man to return her money, eventually he stopped answering her phone calls.

She approached the police, and Norwood security consultant Ari Helpern.

Shortly afterwards the men were arrested and charged. But Cox still has not seen her money returned – and is unlikely to until the criminal case is resolved.

Cox has been forced to start working again, re-opening her home-based salon in a bid to stay financially afloat.

But Helpern told The Star that contractual fraud cases were on the rise, and that even though these scams may seem obvious, many victims are unaware of the legal complications that can arise.

Helpern said that once the victim signed a contract, the scammers could threaten a civil case against them, even though these cases almost never hold water.

He warned that these sort of scams target the elderly, naive or those who don’t know much about contract law, and that jumping into a business deal without the proper checks having been done should be avoided.

“You have to do your vetting, do a due diligence check,” said Helpern.

If you have been the victim of this kind of fraud, Helpern says that you still have options to recoup your investment, and that through a proper investigation, the criminals can be brought to justice.

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