Conmen on Campus

untitled-1.jpg Photo’s courtesy of Campus Control

Witsies Get Conned!
Melissa Douman

CAMPUS Security has identified six confidence tricksters who have been operating at in the Wits University area.
Another conman who impersonates a maulana, a Muslim holy man, operates on the fringes of the campus.
Photographs of four of the confidence tricksters suspected by Wits security have been circulated among students with a warning to be wary of being approached for money.
Two other swindlers, a woman with a child, and a 40-year-old man, have been escorted off the campus recently. They operated in the vicinity of the Matrix.
Children between the ages of 10 and 11 who were suspected of tricking people out of their money, were given the same treatment.
One of the confidence tricksters in the photograph is in jail and another two are on bail, awaiting trial.
Two women were recently arrested on campus after using a combination of confidence tricking and sleight of hand to rob people.
While one of the women would distract a victim, another would be the pick-pocket, slipping anything of value out of bags.
A Wits student who had her cellphone stolen by a conman recently, said she reported it to the Norwood Police Station, but got a brush-off.
“A police officer at the station said these crimes are petty and that the swindlers were not really regarded as thieves,” she said.
“He told me: ‘They asked you for money and you willingly gave’.
“It becomes almost impossible to get them to even open up a docket,” said the student, who claimed she had video footage of the man walking off with her cellphone.
An accounting student at Wits said he had been conned by the “holy man” at the Engen garage on Empire Road just off campus.
“He waits there late at night and asks you for money for petrol,” said the student, who alleged the “maulana” also operated in Fordsburg.
The student, once he realised he had been caught, asked the petrol attendants why they allowed the man to operate at the garage.
“He said this maulana had a lot of connections, that he was a little crazy and that when confronted he would follow you home and then send men to threaten you and your family.”
The student said he was with his girlfriend at the time and had decided not to confront the conman.
“This is supposed to be a religious man who sets an example, how can you not help?” asked the student.
Jo-Anne Richards, a lecturer in the Department of Journalism, was conned by a man pretending to be an engineering student. The tearful student had told her his mother had died and he needed to get home to KwaZulu-Natal.
She bought him a train ticket, dropped him at the station and stayed in contact. Four times after that, he asked for more money saying that his sister, who needed to pay for her RDP house, had died.
She cottoned on to the man’s lies when she called him and heard what sounded like a party in the background with the con-man obviously part of the partying.
“Perhaps I was a bit stupid,” said Richards. “He seemed so distraught that I believed him.”
Nandini Nagan, a third-year BA law student who was on the SRC last year, said she encountered a woman student who claimed to have been raped and was desperately trying to leave Wits. Her family lived in Durban.
She also wanted to apply to the University of Cape Town because she needed to escape the scene of her assault.
Nagan allowed the woman to use SRC phones to get herself sorted out. The con-woman made half-hour calls to Cape Town on several occasions and when Nagan became suspicious the woman disappeared.
Campus Security has urged students to be vigilant and to report of any incidents.
“Do not wait until the actual crime happens, even if it is a suspicion, seek advice,” said Oscar Manqaba, the Investigations Manager of Campus Security.
“No one is allowed to come onto campus for the purposes of collecting or asking for money,” said Manqaba. He said such people would be escorted off campus with a warning.
If these people persist they are handed over to the police and their photos get posted around campus.
He said that campus security worked to promote safety but that, “we are not the police but we try the best we can”.
Manqaba suggested that confidence tricksters, some of whom run a scam for as long as four days, should be reported to Campus Security, who would call the police.
Manqaba said many of swindlers might have been caught had the victims reported their suspicions or met security for advice.

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