Gauteng resident shares pain of losing R36K to ‘bogus’ solar panel installers

Scammers are using the name, address and images of a business which specialises in car equipment

24 May 2023 - 10:23
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An Ekurhuleni resident has detailed the pain of losing R36,000 to bogus solar panel installers. Stock photo.
An Ekurhuleni resident has detailed the pain of losing R36,000 to bogus solar panel installers. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/udo72

Jakkie Erasmus was looking forward to spending his retirement years with comfort and without worrying about load-shedding.

Instead he not only has to deal with worsening power cuts but a R36,000 hole in his retirement savings after he was allegedly scammed by bogus solar panel installers using the identity of a genuine electronics store based in Fordsburg, Johannesburg.

TimesLIVE was initially alerted to the alleged scam by a customer who was almost duped into purchasing a solar package for around R70,000, which is cheaper than the usual price.

The would-be scammers use the name, address and images of World of Electronics (WOE), which specialises in car equipment and does not sell solar packages or do installations. 

WOE has warned customers about this fake page in several posts on its own Facebook page. 

“It has come to my attention that an online store has been opened using all of my company details and people are being scammed.

“For the safety of my customers. I need everyone to be aware WOE does not have any online store The page does not belong to us and the logo being used is the scammers' logo,” the company said.

The potential customer was one of the lucky few to realise the scam before he parted with his hard-earned money after he grew suspicious about the unusually low price and opted to visit the shop, where he learned the truth.

Erasmus, who lives in Springs, Ekurhuleni, was not so lucky. He shared his story with TimesLIVE.

“It was towards the end of last year when load-shedding got really bad. I'm retiring next May and I took some money out of my retirement [account] and thought 'this is an investment into the house and to make life a bit easier later on for my wife and I'.

" I phoned these guys [claiming to be from WOE] and the guy was very polite and sounded really clued up based on the type of questions he asked me.”

Erasmus was lured in by the promotional price for the package.

“It looked like a very good deal because they offered it for just under R50,000 for the complete installation and normally that would go for about R60,000 to R65,000. I thought if they've got a special on, then maybe they got it on promotion or something so I told them I was interested,” he said.

After a day or two, the Springs resident received word there was “stock” available from the promo packages but was urged to secure his order as “people were falling over themselves” to get it.

Erasmus opted to exercise caution and requested to see the package in person and was given the Fordsburg address. However, he was unable to go as an unexpected matter arose the same day he was meant to visit the store. Erasmus threw caution to the wind, choosing to proceed by paying a deposit to secure the deal without seeing any of the products. That's when the situation unravelled.

“He asked me to take photos of the electrical distribution board inside my house and the roof and asked me to send a copy of my water and electricity accounts because apparently there were numbers he needed. This made me feel more comfortable and feel like the guys knew what they are doing.

After paying R22,000, Erasmus was told of a “company policy” that required a bigger deposit for packages under R50,000. Despite his misgivings, he paid another R14,000 before the installation could happen.

A screenshot of the page the alleged scammers have set up.
A screenshot of the page the alleged scammers have set up.
Image: Khanyisile Ngcobo/Facebook

The scammers then promised to “drop off” the equipment after another job in Delmas shortly after his payment. After rescheduling several times, with load-shedding blamed for the delay in delivering equipment, the truth came out.

“After that, everything went dead. They did not answer my messages, I tried to phone them and couldn't get hold of them, nothing. And then I got worried and checked out the company. I recognised the street in Fordsburg because I've been there before. I called the number and explained what was going on and the woman at WOE said 'I'm afraid you've been scammed'.”

Erasmus was told the company only sold car and alarm systems and not solar panels.

He was urged to contact his bank immediately to try to stop the payment, but he was too late as the account he transferred the money to had been emptied the same day Erasmus made the payment. 

His only recourse was to open a criminal case, which he did at Springs police station. Gauteng police spokesperson Col Dimakatso Nevhuhulwi confirmed a fraud case was opened and was filed as undetected on February 2 2023.

Erasmus shared the pain of losing R36,000 so close to going on pension, saying it was a “big loss” and one he's unable to recoup as he doesn't earn the kind of money that would allow him to replace it.

World of Electronics confirmed scores of people had visited their shop to “view” the solar panel packages advertised on the bogus Facebook page.

Manager Majid told TimesLIVE some of those who came to inquire had made a payment to the scammers while others were inquiring before paying. He said those who had paid were urged to contact the person they had liaised with, but these calls went unanswered.

Majid said they tried to flag the issue with Facebook to no avail. Opening criminal cases was futile because the police needed the victims to report the matter when it happened. The best they could do was warn customers about the scam on their Facebook page, which he said they do repeatedly.

He said they did not have an online store, only a social media page used to promote their car products.

At the time TimesLIVE visited World of Electronics, the bogus page had been taken down. Weeks later it was up and running again under the name World of Electronics Energy Solutions and using the address for the Fordsburg store but with a different contact number.

World of Electronics and Erasmus confirmed this was the same page that ran the original scam.

The company is running “specials” on solar installations, which are apparently valid for one week and for R89,000 instead of the “usual” R122,000.


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