Cape Town - A disheartened Cape Town-based businesswoman has approached a lawyer seeking legal assistance to recover R5 million from the State and a bank after losing the money to a romance scam that left her high and dry and heavily indebted.
Jill Davids (not her real name) has joined thousands of middle-class single women from around the world who have been manipulated or brainwashed to believe that they had through social media found filthy rich men who would pamper them with love and romance, only to realise later that the would-be lovers disappeared with their hard-earned cash.
The cybercrime victim of what is popularly known as a “romance scam” is so embarrassed and ashamed that she asked for her name to be withheld.
Her lawyer, advocate Carlo Viljoen, is confident the bank, the name of which is known to the Independent Media, and the SAPS can be held accountable for her massive loss. Viljoen said because of the delay by the police and the bank to act, there was a slim or no chance of the victim recovering her money from scammers.
“I know in America they have actually won a few cases against banks because they said the banks are actually accommodating this fraud. That is what I am trying to bring in South Africa as well,” said Viljoen.
However, Hawks spokesperson Warrant Officer Bonnie Nxumalo said two suspects aged 33 and 35 had been arrested in connection with Davids's case, and that they would appear at the Bellville Special Commercial Crime Court, Cape Town, on February 15.
She said police were investigating several cases of fraud with similar modus operandi.
Viljoen said he had for years been coming across the victims of the scam and had been warning women not to fall for it. Davids is among the three victims he is representing with the aim of recovering the money. He said the other victims have each lost about R1m. He said the banks should have used their exchange control mechanism.
“The banks should have been aware of these scams and they should have seen that these ladies are paying a big amount of money, which is highly unusual for a 60-year-old. After (Davids) complained, the bank should have frozen these amounts before they could be transferred out of the bank account until the investigation is completed,” said Viljoen.
He is working with Global Attorneys, a group of international lawyers who have dedicated their time to help the victims of romance scams. A few years ago, the South African Banking Risk Information Centre said in a press statement: “Even when banks are able to detect that a victim is about to make a payment based on false pretences, these victims often insist on proceeding with the transaction as they do not accept that they are being defrauded.”
Before being scammed, Davids ran a successful public relations company, whose 19 big clients included multinational companies such as Swiss Air, Air France, Emirates Airline, Air Seychelles, and Milky Lane. But having lost everything, including a mansion in Johannesburg and cars, she has now moved to Cape Town to live from hand to mouth and is dependent on Good Samaritans for financial support.
Davids had three years ago posted on Facebook looking for someone to help her publish a book which she had authored. The supposedly rich man responded and charmed his way into her heart and purse. He introduced himself as Allen Craig and claimed to be a South African-based Italian, a successful car dealer living in Camps Bay. She said she later discovered the name and picture of the suspect to be identity theft.
She said after months of WhatsApp and telephonic romantic communication, the suspect, who by then claimed to have visited Italy for a wedding, started telling her about having a problem with his bank account and convinced her to lend him money with a promise to repay her.
“I started by depositing R15 000 and this guy kept requesting more and more money, and I agreed because he promised to pay me as soon as his account is sorted,” she said.
The suspect sweet-talked Davids into sending him a huge amount of cash on various occasions. When her bank account had run dry, the manipulation continued and led her to sell her property. When she was left with nothing else to sell, the suspect again sweet-talked her to take a loan of R3m and deposit the cash into his bank account, which was closed soon after the transfer.
“I have to repay the loan with a monthly instalment of R50 000, and I was hoping the (suspect) would pay the loan. I have not even started paying because I don’t have money,” she said.
When she was expecting to meet the man, the telephone and WhatsApp conversations disappeared. She then approached the police after establishing the scammer’s workplace.
“Police opened a docket but closed the case without even conducting an investigation. I reopened the case, but they later told me that the docket had disappeared. I have since referred the matter to the Hawks,” she said.
She also approached a private investigator who told her that chances of recovering the money were nil.
The three victims have been referred to Viljoen by Sky Women, an organisation that supports victims and campaigns against the scam. It is working on “action against 419 scams/ cyberfraud on social media”.
The Banking Association SA could not comment on Viljoen’s legal action as it is not sure of the legality of the matter.
The www.nbcnews.com reported early last year that the Federal Trade Commission received more than 25 000 complaints about romance scams in 2019.