Experts warn that social media is increasing becoming a hunting ground for identity theft

File image.

File image.

Published Sep 10, 2022


Johannesburg - “Facebook and other social media platforms have become the hunting ground of many predators who steal identities of well-known celebrities and reputable persons or organisations for their own financial gain.

To truly understand the extreme extent and full impact of the misrepresentation, manipulation and deceit victims are confronted with, it is important to understand their journeys. Perpetrators have no qualms to annihilate their victims financially, and the impact emotionally and psychologically is devastating.”

This is the dire warning from private investigator and crime expert Mike Bolhuis from S.S.S. Specialist Investigators, who said they deal with up to 50 cases of identity theft per week. But it’s not just ordinary South Africans who fall victim to syndicates. SAPS members and local celebrities have also had their pictures used in an attempt to extort money from unsuspecting victims. In some cases, syndicates even show up with fake warrants of arrest to scare citizens into paying them off.

In one case, a client saw a post on Facebook from ‘Gerald Burger’, a well-known seer. The post offered free palm readings. The woman sent a WhatsApp message to the cell phone number provided, 074 450 1788, and asked for a free palm reading.

The message sent back read: "Hi, you have reached the offices of Gerald Burger for a free reading please send your right-hand palm a photo, names, and date of birth. Please can u specify on what u want to consult about ? we are busy but you all get a reply thanks for waiting."

The woman did as she was instructed and shortly thereafter received a message that said a dark cloud was hanging over her life and that she needed to contact the "professor" on 064 224 8018.

The initial cost was only R150 for 15 minutes. The woman agreed to meet with the "professor" at 10 Elands Way, Gallo Manor, Sandton.

Fast forward a few weeks, the woman, acting on an investment tip-off from the “professor”, applied for loans at various banks but only received a response from one for a loan of approximately R33 000. When she returned to the professor with this information, he said the ancestral fathers wanted her to revisit them and that R33 000 was too little to invest and that the people at Sars would ask questions if they deposited her "blessings."

The woman was told to resign from her job. Her pension fund was paid out, and she Initially gave the “professor” R100 000 in cash. In total, the unsuspecting mother parted with R450 000 from her pension fund money and hasn’t seen a cent of that money, despite investment returns promised by the “professor”.

Bolhuis said some clients are too embarrassed to report cases to SAPS and also because they do not trust that SAPS members are equipped to deal with these kinds of cases.

“What people must understand is that giving money to a syndicate is a crime. But these guys are brilliant at what they do. This is their day job. We have had cases where we had to confiscate the bank cards of clients to make sure they do not hand over any more monies to these syndicates,” said Bolhuis.

Widows and desperate people are the favourites of the syndicates, and in another case, a woman looking for love was duped out of R15.4 million over a period of five years.

“This woman paid all that money to a man she never met. She is ruined. Her family is ruined. Once they have your identity, they can do all kinds of things. They open fake bank accounts, take out loans, and in rare cases, even commit rape and murder,” Bolhuis cautioned.

A favourite modus operandi of the bogus cops is to threaten men who have visited sex sites with exposure. In many cases, the loving husbands and fathers pay the money to avoid their wives and families finding out.

“Many sex sites are linked to syndicates. They can access all your details. They can photo-shop your face onto naked images. Even school children are doing this and threatening each other. My advice is to stay off sex sites. Once they have you, they have you,” he said.

SAPS media spokesperson Colonel Athendla Mathe said their office was unable to provide feedback at the time of going to print.

The Saturday Star