Defrauded pensioner is going back to court to get her money back

A pensioner, defrauded of almost R1 million, is set to take the matter further in court. File photo

A pensioner, defrauded of almost R1 million, is set to take the matter further in court. File photo

Published May 18, 2024


By: Nicola Mawson

A PENSIONER, defrauded of almost R1 million, is set to take the matter further in court, seeking to recover the money in a case of a very sophisticated swindle.

Dirkie Cornelia Wessels, a 67-year-old pensioner, was scammed by fraudsters who got control over her bank account and transferred R960 960.19 in 23 different transactions, which took place on the same day, into bank accounts held at Capitec and Absa in the name of Rowen Petrus.

Petrus is a part-time cryptocurrency trader on the Binance platform, who then invested this money in cryptocurrency, assuming that the money deposited into his account came from a genuine investor.

It’s a complicated case that Tina Hokwana, a law lecturer at the Nelson Mandela University, explains in a Twitter thread. Hokwana posted that both Absa and Capitec placed interim holds on Petrus’s accounts, but there needed to be a court order to extend this hold.

Wessels took the matter to court on an urgent basis, requesting Absa and Capitec place an indefinite hold on Petrus’s accounts. Absa was the first respondent, Capitec the second, and Petrus the third respondent. Only Petrus opposed the application. Wessels lost.

In a judgment handed down on 22 April this year, Judge Labuschagne, Acting Judge of the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, found that there was no proof that Petrus would use the money “with the view to frustrating the claim of the applicant”.

This is, Wessels’ lawyer Lily Rautenbach says, despite Advocate Nicky Terblanche pointing out in court that the money was immediately transferred once received into his account.

“Counsel even referred the court to the bank statements of Petrus to confirm the immediate withdrawal of the monies.”

However, Petrus, the court noted, “is ostensibly washing hands of his obligations in terms of Fica (the Financial Intelligence Centre Act) and, in fact, blames the applicant for being scammed”.

Unpacking the swindle shows that it involved fraudsters gaining hold of Wessels’ bank account at Capitec by sending her an SMS stating that R11 000 had been spent on a Takealot purchase and, if this wasn’t her, she was to call a certain number. That number was answered by a “Tessa Smit”, claiming to be from Capitec’s fraud department who told Wessels to move her money into a savings account, download an app, “AnyDesk,” on her cellphone, and – from the app – the fraudsters took control of Wessels’ phone, and she was unable to perform any functions on the device, Hokwana explains in her Twitter thread.

From there, the money went to Petrus, who received an order to buy cryptocurrency from someone, which he did without verifying that the person buying the virtual money was, in fact, who they claimed to be – a violation of Fica as found by the court.

“The third respondent (Petrus) says that there was nothing sinister in this large volume, because he had reduced the price of the cryptocurrency that he had advertised,” the judgment states. Petrus then reached a cap of R100 000 – but the fraudsters simply changed bank accounts so they could keep buying,” says the judgment.

“Throughout this process the third respondent (Petrus) was unquestioning. The fact that such a multitude of transactions came through under the limit of R50 000 was, in itself, a red flag which obligated the third respondent to report the transactions to Fica as being suspicious.

“His failure to verify the identity of his true client in respect of the trades is the reason why these transactions proceeded at all,” the judgment states.

Rautenbach says she issued summons this week against Petrus to recover the money and that the SAPS is currently investigating the matter.

Absa commented: “Absa is aware of the incident. We investigate all cases of fraud comprehensively and every instance is examined with the unique circumstances taken into consideration. We are, however, unable to comment on this case as the bank would not typically become involved in civil disputes between two third parties as to the ownership of funds in an account.”

Capitec, meanwhile, says it takes these matters seriously, which is why its team immediately froze all accounts that received any fraudulent transactions once it was made aware to them. “Currently, this is a civil dispute between two of our clients. We will remain objective and abide by the court’s decision. We can confirm that Capitec systems or employees were not responsible in any way for the unauthorised transactions.”

Francois Viviers, group head of marketing and communications at Capitec, adds that “banking fraud is an industry-wide issue affecting South Africa and we urge all banking clients to be vigilant”.

Ulrich Janse van Rensburg, chief fraud strategy and analytics officer at Absa Everyday Banking, has provided several tips for banking clients to avoid being scammed:

Social Engineer threats to look out forResponse required
You receive a phone call alerting you about unauthorised transactionsRequest the unauthorised transactions to be stopped, but do not share card details and logon credentials. Also pay attention to any in app authorisation request. Your bank will not ask you to authorise the reversal of unauthorised transactions. Phone your bank Fraud Hotline immediately.
You receive a text message alerting you of unauthorised transactions.DO NOT phone the number in the text message. Source your bank fraud hotline number via a browser and phone your fraud hotline
You receive a phone call alerting you that your funds are at risk and you have to transfer your funds to a safe accountNEVER respond to such a request. Your bank will NEVER ask you to move your money from your bank account to a “safe” account. Phone your bank Fraud Hotline immediately.
You receive a phone call and the “bank representative” requires remote access to your mobile phone or computerDO NOT allow anyone remote access “AnyDesk or Teamviewer” to your mobile phone or computer. Report the incident to your bank Fraud Hotline