'Cleansing herbal remedy' spiked with hallucinogens is new scam: be warned
Consumer watch-outs of the week
In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:
Have you heard of the ancestry scam?
Scam artists are abusing cultural belief systems to take advantage of people’s financial desperation and scam them for everything they have. This warning comes from Nazia Karrim of the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS) which has been asked by the Hawks' specialised 419-scams task team to help get the word out.
Here’s how the scam works:
It's run by a syndicate which profiles potential victims before a member approaches them, claiming they have been sent on behalf of a sangoma who has been contacted by the victim’s ancestors. The sangoma needs to contact them to address their plight, they say.
A second member of the syndicate then poses as the sangoma, telling the victim they need to be cleansed to help improve their financial circumstances and life in general.
“The victim is told to bring a set amount of cash in a bag when visiting the sangoma, which will be cleansed and blessed by the ancestors,” Karrim said.
“On arrival, the sangoma requests the victim to drink a cleansing herbal remedy which they’ve spiked with hallucinogens. They then reportedly hear the voices of their ancestors, prompting them to hand over the bag full of cash to the sangoma.”
The sangoma blesses the money which “miraculously” doubles in value — in fact, the scammers have added money to the bag during the “ritual”.
The elated victim is told to return to the sangoma after they have withdrawn a significant sum of money, either by liquidating their pension fund or withdrawing their life savings, for the money to be similarly doubled or tripled.
A similar scene plays out at that second meeting, only that time, the scammers take all the money and fill the bag with counterfeit money or paper, telling their victims not to open it until a day or two later for the blessing to be successful.
“The effects of the drugs take a few days to wear off and that’s when the victim realises they have been scammed, but the syndicate has disappeared by then,” Karrim said.
“The incident volumes are alarming.”
Know who you are dealing with and be suspicious when you are requested to spend large sums of money via unconventional means and circumstancesNazia Karrim, Southern African Fraud Prevention Service
In response to the growing need for a proactive approach to fraud prevention, the SAFPS has launched Yima; a one-stop-shop website for South Africans to report scams, secure their identity, and scan any website for vulnerabilities related to scams. A key element of the website is the ability to report a scam incident or suspicious activity to the SAFPS. These reports are analysed to assist in syndicate identification and shared with law enforcement for investigation by specialised task teams.
By calling Yima’s scam hotline — 083-123-SCAM (7226) — you can report a fraud incident directly to participating banks, retailers or telecoms companies.
So you only need to remember one number rather than search for each institution's fraud contact centres numbers separately.
The SAFPS has added a special category for ancestry scams on Yima to educate the public.
Potential victims can also use the verification tool, Verify’em, on the Yima website, which will help them determine if a person is a South African citizen and verify them against the department of home affairs (DHA) using facial biometrics.
If they get scammed by that individual, they will have a profile confirmation to help identify the scammer.
“Know who you are dealing with and be suspicious when you are requested to spend large sums of money via unconventional means and circumstances,” Karrim said.
If anyone other than you drives your insured car, read this
Not all car insurance policies are the same regarding additional drivers.
Some will allow random third parties to drive the car from time to time without affecting the cover, provided they are not the regular driver. Others will only cover people who have been “nominated” or “named” and listed on the policy.
When Sindiswa of Bloemfontein took out her policy, she revealed her adult children, who live with her, sometimes drive her car. She was told she’d be sent a form on which to record their details, but, she told me, that never happened and she forgot to follow up.
While travelling in convoy to the Eastern Cape for a family Christmas, Sindiswa’s daughter was involved in a major accident, the car later being written off by the insurer. But her claim was rejected because the daughter was not listed on the policy, as required.
She lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman for Short-Term Insurance, which sided with the insurer.
Please make sure that your cover won’t fall away if others drive your car occasionally.
Here’s when you’re most likely to have a serious accident
South African drivers are most at risk of writing off their vehicles at the weekend, with Saturday accounting for 23% of all write-off incidents and Sunday a further 20%. That’s according to data collected by King Price Insurance between January 2021 and May 2023 on comprehensively insured cars not older than seven years.
There is also a heightened risk on Friday (17%) and Monday (12%), with the lowest-risk days being Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
So apparently it pays to be extra alert at weekends, given the increased risk of an accident which leads to your car being deemed an insurance write-off.
It needn’t be a serious accident — a car is declared a “write-off” if it’s structurally irreparable or uneconomical to repair, meaning it’s going to cost your insurer too much to fix it to a roadworthy state, given the car’s value.