The student diaspora of the UP consists of students from all walks of life. For most first years, this is their first time being away from home and scammers thrive on exploiting their overtly trusting attitude. It is therefore fundamental that every first-year student is aware of potential scams that they could fall victim too.
Students must be wary of motorists who ask for directions. In 2018, a student lost their cell phone when they directed and drove with a motorist who had asked for directions. At the garage, the motorist gave the student R100 to buy airtime and asked to use the student’s cell phone. When the student arrived after buying the airtime, the motorist had left with their cellphone.
Similar to this, students who go out shopping for clothes lose their personal belongings to scammers. Students get approached by an unknown woman who mentions a potential discount that the student can get through them. The woman urges the student to try on various articles of clothing in the changing room, and while the student tries these on, offers to look after their belongings. After the student makes their way out of the changing room, the woman would have already disappeared with the belongings.
“Students must be wary of motorists who ask for directions”
In other instances, the woman will ask the student to give her their bank card and pin code details, mentioning that the student can only get the discount if the woman makes the payment on their behalf at the till. The student stands a certain distance away and the woman disappears with the student’s card to make further withdrawals. Captain Weilbach of the Brooklyn SAPS urges students to not fall for these scams as “stores will advertise sales and discounts and will never give individual discounts.”
A recurring scam in Hatfield is that of false prophets. During exam season or test weeks, false prophets convince students to invest in prayers and various rituals in return for a high academic potential in their exams. Upon asking the student to make various purchases for the rituals, the false prophets, who were left alone in the student’s accommodation, steal all valuables.
Other times, the false prophets persuade students into thinking that there are evil spirits in their laptop, or they play on emotional sentiments by offering to pray for sick family members or solve a personal problem. When students leave their personal belongings with the false prophets while going out to purchase ingredients for the ritual, the false prophets escape with the belongings. The Brooklyn SAPS urges students to rather make use of reliable counsellors and registered churches for prayers.
In extreme cases, scammers impersonate police officers in their ploy to obtain money. They will approach a victim and mention to them that they fit the description of a suspect that they are searching for. The victim is then asked to hand over their bank cards and associated pin code to confirm their identity. The suspects then disappear with the victim’s bank cards, money or personal belongings. Captain Weilbach reminds students that “Police officers do not need a bank card or a pin code to confirm a person’s identification”.
“stores will advertise sales and discounts and will never give individual discounts.”
Pertaining to accommodation, it is vital that students who do not get granted placements in official university residences be wary of private accommodation. When using advertisements to look for potential accommodation, parents and students are cautioned to be vigilant as scammers use these adverts to scam potential tenants. In some cases, the deposit paid is for non-existent accommodation, has been rented to someone else or the so-called owner was never the rightful owner. Captain Weilbach warns students to “make use of the [university’s] official accredited rental agents for private accommodation”.
The scams that students need to be aware of are not limited to the ones mentioned in this article. Although scams are often recurring, scammers become innovative in devising new ways to exploit gullibility and trust. The call to be vigilant is extended to all students and staff who live in the Hatfield area and not merely limited to first years. Captain Welibach states that “Brooklyn SAPS want students to have a safe academic experience” and urges students not to be trustworthy of strangers and be vigilant in all situations.
Anyone with information on crime can contact the Brooklyn police station at (012)366 1735/6, or Crime Stop on 08600 10111 or SMS Crime Line on 32211 or download the free MY SAPS app to report crime anonymously.
“make use of the [university’s] official accredited rental agents for private accommodation”
The following safety measures recommended by Brooklyn SAPS can be followed when students consider renting accommodation through a private advertisement to avoid being caught by an accommodation scam:
- Obtain as much detail as possible about the rental property. Ask family or friends that are living in Pretoria to check out the location of the property and to ensure that the property exists and complies with normal health and safety standards.
- Get the full name and surname and ID number of the rental agent/owner and try to verify it.
- Do not send any money or personal information without meeting the landlord or property manager or without seeing the place.
- Be sceptical if the landlord or the agent claims to be out of the country and is unable to personally show you the property.
- Ask for a copy of the rental contract and obtain legal advice to verify its legality.
- Try to obtain references from previous tenants.
Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Illustration: Giovanna Janos