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Sun Jul 31 03:40:35 SAST 2016

Alive with rip-offs

Graeme Hosken | 30 March, 2016 00:22
A police officer at OR Tambo International Airport said cons by airport officials were many. File photo
Image by: Supplied

South Africa: A place of braaivleis and sunny skies. And, particularly if you are a tourist, the land of the bribe.

If you know of foreign visitors arriving soon, tell them to bring extra cash and top up credit cards.

From traffic cops and security guards to South African Airways officials, all are ready to rip off unsuspecting visitors.

Research by the Tourist Business Council of South Africa shows how foreign visitors are seen as ripe for the picking.

Ian Jansen van Vuuren, the council's safety initiative project manager, said this month Tourism SA informed them of several extortion complaints received from visitors who recently returned from South Africa to homes in Austria and Holland.

"Figures in our database on tourist victimisation, especially around extortion, are staggering.

"Extortion is not just occurring at airports. It's across entire provinces, especially in areas like Mpumalanga, where huge numbers are hit by traffic officials who issue so-called 'spot fines', which they say need to be paid to them immediately.

"In the past two years we have received 150 complaints over these 'spot fines' just in Mpumalanga."

The report to the council by SA Tourism follows the arrest of a security guard and an SAA official at OR Tambo International Airport this month for extortion.

It comes days after the Cape Town Central City Improvement District safety and security manager, Muneeb Hendricks, said well-dressed syndicate members using fast getaway vehicles targeted foreigners at ATMs.

According to Hendricks, these syndicates can rake in up to R60000 a week at a single cash dispenser.

The arrest of the security guard and SAA official followed the apprehension of another SAA official for extortion of three Pakistanis in February.

Police spokesman Brigadier Vish Naidoo said the airline official and security guard were arrested for charging a passenger $100 to change her flight after she was refused entry because of invalid travel documents, when they were not supposed to.

The second official was arrested for aiding the Pakistanis, who had been refused entry into Swaziland and were being returned home.

"The staff member helped them enter South Africa illegally. Several fraudulent passports were found in the staff member's possession."

A police officer at OR Tambo International Airport said cons by airport officials were many.

"The going rate to get a visa problem resolved fluctuates. If you are European it can apparently cost you up to €1500. If you're from the US it's nearly $2000.

"Those behind the schemes are well organised and have capitalised on the confusion around the recent visa issues.

"Most operate individually although they do have connections in the airport's different sections, especially in the foreign-exchange bureaux."

SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali confirmed the arrest of two of the airline's staff members for separate incidents.

He said in terms of extortion and passenger awareness about such crimes, the airline interacted with its international customers when it became aware of such crimes.

Jansen van Vuuren said extortion of tourists posed a serious reputation risk to the country.

"The biggest problem about tourist extortion was that not all tourists reported the incidents.

"Once home the most damage occurs as they tell their friends and families about their experience."

Jansen van Vuuren said the latest World Economic Forum report rated South Africa at 119 out of 140 countries in terms of tourist safety.

"This is important as it's perception based and is not based on facts of actual reported crimes," he said.

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