Durban - A shocking fake rape scam targeting young men and focusing on creating fear and humiliation, as well as shamelessly harnessing the fight against gender-based violence, came to light this week.
On Reconciliation Day, a 25-year-old Durban man received a call from an “unknown” number. The caller claimed to be a Superintendent Marius Olivier, who said a warrant of arrest had been issued for the man, on a charge of rape.
Stunned, the young man handed the phone to his mother.
The mother and son’s identities are being withheld for safety reasons.
“Olivier” said the accuser would accept R7 000 to drop the charges, or the son would be arrested that day. The caller said that because it was a holiday and more holidays would follow, the young man would be detained in Westville Prison until at least March, and that he (Olivier) was doing the family “a favour”.
The accuser was a sex worker who claimed the rape had happened on two-consecutive Fridays, said “Olivier”, who claimed to be from the SAPS Crime Prevention Unit.
“There was a lot of noise of what sounded like police radios in the background, and the man spoke with a heavy Afrikaans accent and very quickly, so it was difficult to clarify details,” said the mother, who has worked in the media and was knowledgeable about possible scam tactics. “He kept emphasising that this was a schedule 6 charge and that gender-based violence was a top priority, hence the urgency.
“I asked for his name, badge number, a phone number at which I could contact him, a case or docket numbers, who had issued the warrant, how and to whom this money was supposed to be paid. I was told I would have to go to the Umbilo police station, with the money and my son, and he would sort it out there.
“I told him it sounded like a scam, and his exact reply was ‘I can also see it’s a scam’. He asked for our address and I said I would not give it to him, nor go to the police station, until I’d taken legal advice.”
In a second call, “Olivier” said he had called the complainant and she would be willing to accept a lesser amount of R5 000, which was also declined.
In a third call, he said the complainant claimed the man had paid her between R400 and R500, but it was in counterfeit bills, and all she wanted in order to drop the charges, was payment of this amount with “real” money.
“Olivier” said the rape charge stood and fraud was included.
The mother said: “He started to get really cross with me and hung up.
“Aside from the ‘I know my son couldn’t do that’ defence, the dates
cited had been spent at home, with me and his girlfriend.
“I called the Umbilo police station and a very helpful officer checked the charge book for any rape cases on those dates, confirming there were none. He warned that there were many people who posed as police officers to run scams. He said he wished more people could be told about this problem, so they would know what to do if they were targeted, and suggested we bring the phone in, so the ‘unknown’ caller could be traced.
“Our first reaction when ’Olivier’ phoned was fear – what would we do if a police van arrived at the gate, he was arrested and could not even apply for bail until March, as was threatened?
“It was very well-thought-out psychologically, but had gaping holes,” the mother said.
“Facing off with a threatening ‘police officer’ is not something your average citizen wants to do,” she said, adding that there were no further calls from “Oliver” after he had hung up on her.
Yesterday, Police Minister Bheki Cele said that while he was not aware of the specific incident, he was aware of similar incidents in the province, “and was encouraged that police are acting on them and arrests have been made”.
He said he wanted the investigations strengthened, calling for more arrests of criminals impersonating police officers.
“Such acts cannot be tolerated. At no point will police ever ask citizens for cash in exchange for favours. Citizens have the responsibility and right to ask for identification from anyone who identifies themselves as police officers. Officers are obliged to comply with such a request,” said Cele.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group spokesperson Cassey Chambers said such scams could have a severe effect on the victim.
“Worry, distress, sadness, shock, anger and stress... People are already so on edge, anxious and feeling vulnerable – an accusation like this could really spiral someone's anxiety out of control,” said Chambers, adding that the public needed to ask for details and reference numbers.
KZN Saps Media did not respond to a query about whether there was a Superintendent Marius Olivier at the Crime Prevention Unit.
University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Professor in Criminology and Forensic Studies, Nirmala Gopal said: “Instilling fear in victims is a common modus operandi... in almost all forms of criminal activity. It gives the perpetrator a sense of power and control.
“What is of concern, though for the public, is the scamster calling the
victim multiple times. What is even more worrisome is the ability of these scamsters to cause psychological harm to unsuspecting families and could be the cause of tension and conflict in marriages and relationships because the seed of doubt is being planted.
“Stay calm and focus on the content of the conversation and never divulge personal information as this could be a pathway to people’s houses and homes.
“Once a scamster realises they could be exposed, they retreat.”
The Independent on Saturday