Johannesburg - Former employees of a telecoms company have spilt the beans on how their bosses allegedly made them scam and intimidate customers into buying worthless SIM cards for R500 each.
Regnum Solutions, previously based in Benoni, Ekurhuleni, before it relocated to Durban last week, is said to have left a string of angry customers who were duped into buying SIM cards that were supposed to give them free airtime for five years.
The company, which on its website claims to have business interests with top cellular network providers such as Telkom and MTN, has allegedly left without paying its agents.
The company is affiliated to another firm called Credico SA, which supplies them with SIM cards from The Starter Pack Company (TSPC). Telkom has confirmed having a business relationship with Credico.
Regnum’s boss, Thato Riba, said his only duty was to source agents to sell SIM cards, who were paid according to the number of cards they sell. He rejected the allegations against his company.
“Customers pay for the amount that is preloaded on the SIM card. There are no extra costs,” he said.
“I hire and fire people all the time, and sometimes because of differences over salaries. I don’t teach my staff to cheat customers.
"They do that on their own. I don’t condone it. I don’t have control over what they tell people they sell (SIM cards) to,” said Riba.
Telkom said they had not done any business with Regnum and nor did the company’s name appear on their list of businesses that sell merchandise on Telkom’s behalf.
The former employees claimed Regnum was getting loads of boxes with an assortment of SIM cards. Each card would come with preloaded airtime of between R29 and R50. The agents would then sell these to people at malls in Ekurhuleni townships.
They would dupe and pressure customers into buying SIM cards under the pretence that they would get free airtime, data and SMSes for five years, only to find out later after they had paid that the cards had only a few rand of airtime.
Those who could not pay on the spot had their cellphones confiscated, said Hilton Masuku, a former employee.
Masuku started working for Regnum in July after he saw their job advertisement online. He left the company in November after payment disputes, alleged abuse and difficult working conditions.
In July, the company had 55 agents, but this dwindled to 30 in November as more staff members complained. They worked every day of the week from 5.30am until 8pm without salaries or payslips.
The employees said besides being cheated out of their salaries, what motivated them to speak out was to warn people in Durban.
“We were trained to lie and deceive potential customers. The 'free airtime for five years' offer always got their attention. I would punch some numbers into their cellphones which would show that they qualified for the promotion,” said Masuku.
The offer required customers to pay a R500 once-off fee.
“The moment they hand me their cellphones, I don’t give them a chance to change their mind. Some customers would not have the money ready and we’d take their cellphones or tell them that their devices would be blocked if the money is not paid in two hours,” Masuku confessed.
Some customers, like Queen Sibiya of Zola, Soweto, had to sacrifice her child's maintenance money to get her cellphone back from an agent she met at Phumulani Mall in Tembisa in September.
“I had just collected the money from my father’s child in Rabasotho when I met a guy who sold me four SIM cards which were to give me free calls for five years. I only used the SIM cards for a couple of days before I realised there was something wrong with them.
"I tried to return the cards and I was given new ones which also gave me problems. I reported the agents to the mall security and they were barred from there,” said Sibiya.
Her attempts to open a criminal case failed, Sibiya said.
“I heard that the company has since left Gauteng, but it’s leaving behind a lot of unhappy people."
Jabu Nene, another ex-employee, left the company after she received threats from customers.
“I did not feel safe. I’ve had many people wanting to beat me for defrauding them and we were unwanted at some shopping centres in the townships. I could not go through with it because I knew what we were being told to do by our employers was all lies and deceit,” said Nene.
Cindy Florentino from TSPC’s legal department conceded to doing business with Credico but not Regnum. She said it was the first time she'd heard of such as scam.