Concern over spike in police impersonator cases
By Tanya Waterworth, Duncan Guy, Shaun Smillie and Norman Cloete
A phone call from a policeman claiming he could make a rape charge go away for a couple of thousand rand has become the latest go-to scam for con artists around the country.
The modus operandi is simple, as a 25-year-old Durban man discovered on Reconciliation Day, this week.
It began with a call from an “unknown” number.
The caller claimed to be a Superintendent Marius Olivier who said a warrant of arrest had been issued for the man on a charge of rape.
Stunned, the young man handed the phone to his mother who happened to be with him at the time.
The mother and son’s identities are being withheld for safety reasons.
"Olivier" said the accuser would accept R7 000 to drop the charges, or the son would be arrested that day.
The caller went on to say that because it was a holiday and more holidays would follow, the young man would be detained in Westville Prison until at least March, and that he (Olivier) was doing the family “a favour” to avoid arrest and charges.
The accuser was a sex worker who claimed the rape had happened on two-consecutive Fridays, said Olivier, who claimed to be from the SAPS Crime Prevention Unit.
“There was a lot of noise of what sounded like police radios in the background, and the man spoke with a heavy Afrikaans accent and very quickly, so it was difficult to clarify details,” said the mother, who has worked in the media and was knowledgeable about possible scam tactics.
“He kept emphasising that this was a Schedule 6 charge and that gender-based violence was a top priority, hence the urgency.
“I asked for his name, badge number, a phone number at which I could contact him, a case or docket numbers, who had issued the warrant, how and to whom this money was supposed to be paid.
“I was told I would have to go to the Umbilo police station, with the money and my son, and he would sort it out there.
“I told him it sounded like a scam, and his exact reply was ‘I can also see it’s a scam’.
“He asked for our address and I said I would not give it to him, nor go to the police station, until I’d taken legal advice.”
In a second call, “Olivier” said he had called the complainant and she would be willing to accept a lesser amount of R5 000, which was also declined.
In a third call, he said the complainant claimed the man had paid her between R400 and R500, but it was in counterfeit bills, and all she wanted in order to drop the charges was payment of this amount with “real” money.
Asked again about the charge, because now there had been an alleged transaction, ”Olivier” said the rape charge stood and fraud was included.
The mother said: “He started to get really cross with me and hung up.”
This con is known as the police impersonation scam and private investigator Mike Bolhuis said they are growing in frequency, after first appearing in Gauteng.
And they are also becoming more sophisticated where syndicates are targeting men who frequent sex workers or visit porn sites.
Several months ago Bolhuis was involved in the investigation and arrest of an alleged police impersonator who used his contacts with an escort agency to identify his victims.
He used the alias Colonel Andrew Brown, and in one case tried to extort R75 000 from a victim claiming he could make a criminal charge and a police docket “disappear”.
The man was arrested in Middelburg and is currently out on bail.
"This scam took off in the last year, but now in the last couple of months I have heard of so many more cases," said Bolhuis.
Yesterday Police Minister Bheki Cele said that while he was not aware of the Durban incident, he was aware of similar incidents in the province, and was encouraged that police are acting on them and arrests have been made.
He said he wanted the investigations strengthened, calling for more arrests of criminals impersonating police officers.
“Such acts cannot be tolerated. At no point will police ever ask citizens for cash in exchange for favours. Citizens also have the responsibility and right to ask for identification from anyone who identifies themselves as police officers, and officers are obliged to comply with such a request," said Cele.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo said the police had noticed this scam had been employed for the last couple of months.
“Our message to such possible situations in the future is to engage the police and assist in the entrapment of the suspect or ignore the caller,” he said.
University of Kwa-Zulu Natal professor in criminology and forensic studies, Nirmala Gopal, whose research field is cybersecurity and cyber-criminality, said: "Instilling fear in victims is a common modus operandi by perpetrators in almost all forms of criminal activity. It gives the perpetrator a sense of power and control," adding this incident appeared to be a new form of crime, but "was not unusual".
The problem warns Bolhuis is that often these scamsters will keep returning to their mark, pushing him for more money.
"They become so fearful that they keep paying and paying up to a point where they have no more money. Then they (scammers) will go to the final stage where they will make sure there is no money. They will do an investigation and get him to send proof that he can't pay anymore. Only then will they finish with him and move on," said Bolhuis.