Car jammers already loving the festive season: Wendy Knowler’s 'watch-outs of the week'

26 November 2021 - 15:24
Devices recovered by Cape Town metro police from the car of two alleged remote-jamming thieves. File image.
Devices recovered by Cape Town metro police from the car of two alleged remote-jamming thieves. File image.
Image: City of Cape Town

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:

Beware of car jammers

Now is not the time to be distracted when you walk away from your car at a shopping mall parking lot or garage.

Netstar warned on Friday that its data has revealed that car-jamming incidents have increased by 66.6% since mid-November. While the peak retail season used to be kicked off by Black Friday — the last Friday of November — retailers have recently turned it into “Black November”, luring consumers with “special offers” from the beginning of November.

Car jamming, or remote jamming, refers to the method thieves use to get into parked cars, without having to break glass or fiddle with the door look. Instead they activate their own remote — often a customised version of a gate or garage remote — as the car owner presses their remote locker/immobiliser, interfering with the signal and preventing the car from locking.

Once their victim has walked away, they can help themselves to the car’s contents — often there’s a laptop in the boot, or bags of goodies from earlier shopping. To make matters worse, most insurers do not pay theft-from-car claims if there was no forced entry.

“The pandemic saw far less travel by SA motorists, and therefore fewer car-jamming incidents,” said Netstar’s chief technology officer Clifford de Wit.

“But with the return to level 1 lockdown and perhaps more shopping towards the end of the year, we’ve seen a rise in car jamming.”

Get a jamming prevention device, is De Wit’s advice.

“Tracking and jamming-prevention technology can detect and resist signals from potential jamming devices near where your vehicle is parked,” he said.

Even with such technological help, it pays to get into the habit of checking that your car is actually locked before you walk away from it.

Never buy a house on blind trust

For years, I’ve been urging would-be house buyers never to sign an offer to purchase without first paying a professional property assessor to do an inspection and issue a report of their findings. That report will either give you peace of mind, or reveal some horrors, prompting you to cancel the deal or negotiate a lower purchase price.

The reality is that whether the seller is deliberately or unwittingly failing to disclose defects, they could cost you hundreds of thousands of rand to rectify. Legal action is a slow and very expensive process, and totally pointless unless you can prove that the seller knew about the problems at the time of the sale.

For those who don’t feel a professional inspection is warranted, at least make sure that you do as thorough an inspection as you can, yourself. Flush the toilets, turn on the shower, look inside all the cupboards, and so on.

And don’t put in an offer without looking at all the outbuildings, too.

“Clinton” of Durban e-mailed me this week to say he and his wife were told by an estate agent when viewing a property that they couldn’t go into the garage because the family’s vicious dog was inside.

Only after they’d submitted an offer to buy the property did they discover that the garage ceiling had huge holes in it, the roof was damaged and the walls were full of damp. A lot of homes on the market at the moment are in a state of disrepair, given the impact of successive Covid-19 lockdowns.

Take no chances.

Always do this before you confirm an online purchase

The large print giveth and the small print taketh away. That very sage advice is contained in the lyrics of a Tom Waits song, and it sums up a big chunk of the consumer cases that come my way.

If you never make time to read the small-print terms and conditions, expect a lot of nasty surprises.

“Mohammed” recently purchased goods from an online site, having seen “free returns” in some of its marketing. But when he came to return an unwanted purchase, he discovered that he had to pay the courier costs, plus a 15% handling fee.

“Perhaps they disclose that in some T&Cs somewhere but it’s very misleading, the way they advertise,” he told me.

Yes, it is disclosed: under “Returns” on the website in question, right on the home page, albeit at the bottom.

It states: “You are liable for returning the item at your cost if the item is returned due to you simply not wanting the item; if the item is faulty/broken, (we) will be liable for that cost.

“A 15% handling/transaction fee will be deducted from refunds where orders were cancelled due to Change of Heart (not wanting the products any more).”

Well, the first part is perfectly legal, in terms of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, but the bit about the handling fee is not. I will need to challenge the e-tailer on that before identifying the company.

The act states that if a consumer orders something online, they have seven days from the date of delivery to return it, for no particular reason, for a refund, though they can be made to bear the cost of returning the unwanted item.

Many of the big online retailers absorb that cost. In this case, the “free returns” thing only applies if the product is defective. As most returns are of the change-of-heart kind, advertising “free returns” is indeed misleading. So it’s a really good idea to seek out the terms and conditions of the online retailer before hitting that “Buy” button.

CONTACT WENDY: E-mail:; Twitter: @wendyknowler; Facebook: wendyknowlerconsumer



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