Picture: AP

Durban – A Durban law firm says many unsuspecting women are being scammed out of thousands of rand in a parcel-delivery fiddle.

The Customs and Excise team at Shepstone & Wylie Attorneys told The Mercury on Monday that they had received numerous calls from victims.

“It is difficult to say exactly how many."

"These women (from all over the country) haven’t come forward as such but have contacted us for assistance in securing the release of the parcel."

“It is impossible for us to say how many people have actually fallen victim to the scam."

"We have been receiving calls and e-mails relating to the scam since November 2015.”

One of these women was a Durban widow, who told The Mercury on Monday she had begun an online friendship with the alleged scam artist two months ago, and a few months after the death of her husband.

“I’m on the verge of suicide and I’m so depressed over what’s happened."

"My husband worked so hard and now all that money is gone.”

The woman, who did not want to be named, had pawned her jewellery to get the R11 000 the “courier company” required to release the parcel.

When they demanded a further R22 500, for “duties” because the package contained £40 000 (more than R660 000) she drew the line.

“He was my friend, nothing more, and I never asked him to send me anything."

"I didn’t expect to have this happen.”

She has since hired an investigator to try to get her money back.

In the scam, the law firm said a man, claiming to be an engineer from the UK, contacts the women via WhatsApp or Facebook and befriends them.

“He tells the women that he is sending them a parcel, usually containing handbags, cellphones and laptops."

"The women receive a call from a courier company, requesting payment for clearance and delivery of the parcel.”

Sceptical of paying this fee, they said, the women called their UK friend for reassurance.

“He then acts shocked and tells them to pay the money and he will refund them. The women pay the courier and, on inspection, the account details provided by the courier appear to be personal banking details.”

But after making payment, the women receive a frantic call from the courier, telling them that the customs arm of the South African Revenue Service (Sars) had identified foreign currency in the parcel, and as such were demanding further payment before they would release the parcel.

“The courier adds that ‘customs’ threatened to arrest him. This shocks the women into paying them using the payment details supplied by the courier. Again, the banking details provided are for a personal bank account and not that of Sars.”

A request for payment of a fine was then received and shortly thereafter a request for an insurance payment was received.

“The women pay, convinced that the amount of money in the parcel far outweighs the amounts they are being asked to pay. If they are ever doubtful, they are reassured over the phone by their friend overseas. The payment requests continue until the criminals have extorted as much money as they can, sometimes as much as R200 000.”

The firm warned people to be wary of who they accept as Facebook friends.

“These friends have access to your photos as well as some of your personal details. Also, check your privacy settings to ensure that not just anyone can view your full profile.”

They also said that if someone wished to send you money as a gift, they would ideally do it via their bank.

Sars did not respond to requests for comment by time of going to press but, via its website, warned of online and e-mail scams.

Shepstone & Wylie Attorneys offered these tips to spot a scam:

* If you are ever told a parcel is headed your way request a copy of the courier waybill.

* Verify the courier company details reflected on the waybill.

* Sars will never ask anyone to pay money into a personal bank account and the taxman's demands are always on official Sars letterheads explaining what the demand is for.

The Mercury