Johannesburg - South Africans, especially older widows, are being warned not to respond to “personal” ads online. Experts say this group is particularly vulnerable as they often know very little about the internet and how criminals operate.
A well-known community leader in Cape Town was blackmailed after sharing nudes with a stranger he met online. The married victim, whose identity cannot be revealed, was forced to fork out R5 000 after his romance interest threatened to go public with the fact that he was in fact an underage boy. This turned out not to be true.
Fearing that his secret would be revealed and his reputation at stake, the man said he had no choice but to pay up. Lead investigator at Royal Investigations, John Alexander, said the alleged conman, Sabelo Goodman Mabuza, was arrested in Pretoria on May 12 and has subsequently appeared in the Stellenbosch Magistrate’s Court. His bail application will be heard on May 24 and the State is intending to oppose bail.
“Royal Investigations were assigned to investigate another extortion case – the victim engaged a certain individual on ‘www.adsafrica.co.za’, which seemingly looks like an ordinary free classifieds website. Upon closer inspection you would see a more sinister category called ‘personals’. This is where prostitution is advertised at its finest,” he said.
Alexander said the victim engaged someone for companionship and exchanged explicit nude pictures which came to bite him. In less than a month the married man was extorted and paid numerous amounts ranging from R200 to R5 000.
“We discussed the matter with Captain B Adams from Stellenbosch Detectives Division and started an intense investigation to identify the suspect. Captain B Adams and myself worked around the clock to bring justice for this victim, who was now at breaking point. We managed to identify the suspect only to find he was nearly 1 500km away in Pretoria. Captain B Adams went above and beyond the call of duty to drive to Pretoria, where we arrested the suspect in Mayville Checkers Hyper,” he said.
The 32-year-old Mabuza was identified and found in possession of compromising evidence, which was confiscated. He was placed in transit and held at Stellenbosch SAPS.
Alexander said he was not at liberty to disclose the ways used to track down Mabuza for fear that criminals may adjust their own methods.
“We want to educate people and ask them not to engage on these types of websites where danger is looming and where people are using fake pictures to entice you and lure vulnerable victims into exchanging nude pictures which will be used as leverage for extortion,” he pleaded.
Alexander said sextortion is on the rise in South Africa and suspects are almost never caught and arrested.
“Our SAPS deem these types of cases as petty and I heard of victims going to report this type of crime and are even more victimised by police officials in the charge office, which causes more trauma. Our SAPS should be sensitive towards victims of sextortion and treat them in a dignified manner. We need to understand this victim is approaching the police out of desperation, they are usually suicidal at this point and one little remark can push them over the edge,” he added.
Alexander said he’s dealing with five similar cases in Somerset West and Parklands in Cape Town, Kempton Park in Gauteng and in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga.
In March, The Saturday Star reported that romance scams are a billion-dollar industry and people are duped out of cash daily. In one case, a Cape Town woman lost R2 million to someone she had never met in person. Hawks spokesperson Captain Carol Mulamu said there’s been a rise in online dating scams reported and a few perpetrators have been arrested. According to a recent report by the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS), South Africa ranks among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of cybercrime. Research done by IBM shows that a single data breach in South Africa costs an average of R36.5m, and the long-term costs of a data breach can be felt for years after the incident.
South Africa ranked 7th out of 16 countries polled for the highest cost of a cyber breach.