Becoming a vehicle theft or hijack victim can make you a target for scammers. File photo: Newspress

Johannesburg - With the number of vehicle thefts and hijackings increasing across the country, enterprising con artists have come up with a new scam that saves them the effort and hassle of actually stealing the car.

All it takes is a phone call.

According to MUA Insurance Acceptances national manager Hugo van der Merwe, a number of his company’s clients have been targeted, shortly after their vehicles have been stolen or hijacked.

What happens is the victim gets a phone call from a very official-sounding person claiming to be a police officer, informing them that their car has been recovered, in a different province - or even a neighbouring country.

They can either travel to where the car is being held, the ‘cop’ says, pay the impound fee and make their own arrangements to get it back home (bearing in mind that it may not be driveable), or they can pay the impound fee up front - either by an electronic funds transfer to an “SAPS account” or via an electronic wallet - and the car will be moved to the impound lot nearest their home and they can then arrange to collect it, at no further impound fee.

Sound too good to be true?

It is. That’s the last you’ll see of your money - or your car. Van der Merwe pointed out that this is no way regular police procedure; you should under no circumstances pay these or any other types of ‘fees’ if you’re contacted after your wheels have been stolen or hijacked.

“We’ve brought these instances to the attention of the South African Police Service,” Van der Merwe said, “and they’re being investigated as a matter of urgency.”

Get a contact number

Nevertheless, if you’re still not sure about whether you’re expected to pay any fees (these con artists are very convincing, that’s their job), tell them you’ll call back, get a contact number and then phone either your insurance broker or the officer in charge at the police station where the theft or hijacking was first reported, to confirm.

“It’s important to stay alert, especially after you’ve had your car stolen or hijacked,” Van der Merwe added. “Don’t fall into the trap of such scammers - always remember that if an insured vehicle is in fact recovered, you’ll hear about it from the investigating officer on your case, and you’ll never be asked to pay additional recovery fees.”

If your car genuinely has been recovered in distant parts, it’s up to the insurance assessor to decide whether to write it off, leave it where it is and pay you out the insured value of the car or, if it’s worth fixing, to arrange for it to be recovered and repaired - after which you will be asked to pay the excess as detailed in your policy - but that will be to your broker, not some faceless ‘police officer’ on the phone.

IOL Motoring