An alleged “Italian” romance scammer, believed to have scammed an unsuspecting pensioner of more than half a million rand, appeared in court this week.
The Gqeberha-based Serious Commercial Crime Investigation unit of the Hawks, with the assistance of the Bellville Serious Commercial Crime Investigation unit of the Hawks, arrested Thembeka Bendon, 47, for allegations of fraud.
Bendon is the second accused to be arrested after the arrest of Thina Mpuhlu, 42, last year, for the same charge.
Bendon was released on R2 000 bail.
It is alleged that in March 2014, the complainant, who is a pensioner, met someone, who called himself Mario Bertolini, on a dating site.
It is further reported that after a month of getting to know each other via cellphone calls, messages and emails, Bertolini invited the complainant to his brother’s wedding in Rome, Italy. However, the complainant could not get a visa as it was too short notice.
“Bertolini” is further reported to have told the complainant that he was responsible for funding his brother’s wedding since their parents were deceased and he was the bridegroom’s only sibling.
He also allegedly informed the complainant that he would come back to South Africa in five days' time as he had to finish a building contract in Mossel Bay, thus giving an impression of having a strong financial muscle. It is said that he did this in order to build the trust of the complainant.
The complainant said that “Bertolini“ told her that his South African bank account was frozen and, therefore, asked the pensioner to deposit money in his bank account.
He allegedly provided his banking details, and she deposited more than R151 000 into the account for his brother’s wedding.
It is further alleged that he wanted more than R154 000 for an operation his daughter had to undergo as well as a further R220 000 to pay his debt to the SA Revenue Service (Sars).
The woman said she paid all these amounts into his account as she was made to believe that the online love of her life had the financial means to pay back the more than R505 000 that was due to her.
It is further alleged that after these transactions, “Bertolini” disappeared into thin air, and the matter was reported to the Hawks. They engaged in an intensive investigation that revealed that “Bertolini” was a fictitious name used by the two apprehended suspects.
Bendon recently made a short appearance in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court and was taken to the Eastern Cape to reappear in the Gqeberha Magistrate’s court yesterday.
The investigating team was commended by the Provincial Head Major General Mboiki Obed Ngwenya for putting the puzzle pieces together and arresting the alleged scammers, who are alleged to be using social media for foul play.
Another so-called Italian romantic swindler, who is alleged to have scammed a woman of R1,2 million, appeared in the Bellville Regional Court on Wednesday for fraud, theft and money laundering.
The 57-year-old foreigner also pretended to be an Italian national seeking a partner in South Africa.
Over a few months, he allegedly secured R1,2 million from the victim.
Communication with the victim was done on various social media platforms. The police said this suspect was believed to also be part of a syndicate involved in romance scams.