‘Puppy scam’ victim arrested
12 August 2011
RUSTENBURG – “Be extremely cautious when giving out your personal details to anyone!” is the warning by a former resident of Rustenburg, the 32-year-old Mrs Tania van Wyk who is currently fighting an uphill battle to stay out of prison and have her name cleared after she became the victim of identity theft perpetrated by a group of ruthless scammers.
Tania, who left Rustenburg in 1998 after finishing school here, was arrested and detained for three days in Pretoria last week on fraud charges. The charges stem from an encounter she had with unknown persons involved in a so-called “puppy scam” and it started after she responded to an advertisement offering Beagle puppies for free, which appeared in the Junkmail newspaper in June last year.
According to Tania, she contacted the advertiser by email, who pretended to be a South African biologist who was recently transferred to Cameroon, and who was concerned that the puppies were kept in quarantine for too long. The “biologist”, who pretended to be a woman, wanted to return the puppies to South Africa and was therefore looking for good homes for them. Although they were offered for free, the only requirement was that the person taking them would have to pay for the shipping costs to have them airfreighted back to Johannesburg.
The alleged scammer wanted the transport costs to be paid up front, but being cautious, Tania insisted that she would only pay once she received the dogs. After much wrangling, and after being given the flight number the puppies would be on, Tania eventually agreed to email a copy of her identity book in order to provide some form of guarantee to the people, who she only later discovered to be scammers.
She finally learnt the truth when she found out that the airline the puppies were supposedly on, did not operate anywhere in Africa. Thinking nothing more of it, she forgot all about the incident, until November last year, when people started contacting her out of the blue on Facebook, demanding their money back.
It soon transpired that the scammers had used Tania’s identity document to create a fake persona which was then used to scam at least 22 other people out of amounts ranging from R4 500 to as much as R11 000.
Tania, who lived in Mossel Bay at the time, went to the local police station and tried unsuccessfully to lay a charge against the scammers, but she was turned away. However, it was on Sunday, July 31, after she returned to Pretoria to take up a new job, that she was arrested and detained in the cells at the Lyttleton police station. She was kept in the cells, having to sleep on the floor, until Wednesday last week before official charges were brought against her. It would appear that at least one of those that fell victim to the scam, have laid criminal charges against Tania. She told the Rustenburg Herald on Monday that according to her lawyer, chances are good that the case against her would be dismissed, but that she would face arrest on new charges immediately afterwards.
She appeared in court later that day and she was released on R1 000 bail. She was due to appear in the Vredendal Magistrate’s Court in the Western Cape on Wednesday.
Special thanks to the Rustenburg Herald and Erick Pietersen for their permission to publish this article.
The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names