December 3, 2010

I Might Have Spoken Too Soon: Fraud in the South African Postal Service

Just a humble suggestion to the South African Postal Service: Aspiring to be number 10 in the world does not sound all that ambitious, but you will never be even close to that if you cannot control rampant theft in your system!

So my little experiment of sending mail to the U.S. went well, the package was delivered, and quickly at that. However, no such success the other way.

If you remember, I told you our neighbor had warned us about having foreign bank correspondence sent to our PO box, and I did indeed make a half-hearted mental note to perhaps change that, but what with other pressing to-dos and the Christmas season approaching it didn’t get much attention. As luck would have it, I had recently been issued a new bank card by our German bank. The pin arrived, but not the card, and I had made another mental note to check why the card hadn’t gotten here yet. I’m glad our bank was more vigilant than I was – today I received a call to check if a recent request for a substantial money transfer from our account to a South African bank was legitimate. Of course it wasn’t, and so it was stopped, as was the card, which undoubtedly was stolen somewhere along the way before it reached our PO box. The scary part is that not only was our bank account number diverted, but somehow this thief also discovered and copied Noisette’s signature, we have no idea how (did he find out his office address and bribe someone to produce the signature? Or did he find out our home address and went through our garbage? Another mental note: must make a habit of using the shredder again, our old one of course not working due to the whole voltage issue). The accompanying letter was written in very bad German (I’m thinking Google Translator, very similar in style to the Nigerian get-rich-quick emails you’ve undoubtedly received before), which by itself would have sent a red flag to any bank employee. Nevertheless, all of a sudden the warning of our account being depleted within months doesn’t sound outlandish at all!

Therefore, to all aspiring or existing South African expats: Do NOT handle any financial transactions through your local postal address. Have your mail go to a friend’s or colleague’s address in your home country, and let them tell you if anything of import arrives, which they can then forward you via courier. You might also alert your bank to never accept any money orders without receiving your explicit o.k., which any respectable bank should already be doing when dealing with South Africa.

As for our fraud case, I was told to not even bother with the police, who will most likely laugh at you. I did forward the fraudulent letter to the bank that was used by the would-be thief, but I’m not holding my breath, as they have probably covered their tracks well.

Stealing, unfortunately, is not just limited to the postal service but to all areas of South African society. When you go shopping, you will soon learn to keep your receipt out when exiting any kind of store, even if you’ve only bought a package of mints, as there will be a security guard cross-checking the contents of your bag against the receipt. And when you take your car in to be serviced, you will be warned to take out all valuables, and you better do, because otherwise they will indeed be gone. I keep a few coins for the parking attendants in my glove compartment, nothing much at all, and still found that they were gone after my last car service. I’ve heard reports of entire CD collections to go missing. Noisette is dealing with theft on a staggering scale in his factories, from valuable raw materials to rolls of toilet paper. I’ve also heard reports of stolen purses, so it is wise to keep a close eye on yours when shopping or in a restaurant.

So we’ve at last discovered the uglier side of life in South Africa. But, as everybody will tell you here, be vigilant and sensible, and it won’t be half as bad. If you’ve ever lived in Europe, you’d never even dream of leaving your purse in your car, or leaving your keys in the ignition, even if you’ve parked in the garage, yet in the U.S. we’ve grown so accustomed to do these very things, because there is practically no theft (in most places). So it’s basically a matter of adjusting to your circumstances and taking the necessary precautions.


Anonymous said...

Naja, no theft in the U.S.: Erinnere Dich an den Einbruch auf dem Parkplatz des Kennedy Space Center letztes Jahr am hellichten Tag. Auf Bundesgelände! Gruß an Noiesette: Diebstahl aus den Fabriken gibt es hier auch, gerade ist in München eine Bande von korrupten BMW-Mitarbeitern aufgeflogen, die über Jahre Autositze beiseite geschafft haben, ein Millionenschaden. Zurück zur Post: ist eigentlich meine Sendung mit der Zeitschrift angekommen? Habe ich vor zwei Wochen losgeschickt.

Sine said...

Daran musste ich dann auch denken, deswegen hatte ich die Klammer hinzugefuegt. Und ja, deine Zeitschrift kam heute an, kann aber auch gestern gewesen sein, ich schaue nicht jeden Tag in den Briefkasten, weil ja sonst nie was drin ist:-) Danke, das war lieb von dir! Uebrigens hatte ich an J. letzte Woche ein Geburtstagsgeschenk losgeschickt, da hoffe ich auch, dass das ankommt - geht aber an die B-Allee.

Stephanie said...

Hey there again!

The post just caught my eye!

We had a problem with our US Bank ATM card at a Nedbank ATM here. They apparently scanned the card AND managed to capture my husbands PIN number too. Not sure if they did this with a camera or the device that was attached to the ATM. They did manage to withdrawl 6000 rand from the account. Luckily we have a cap and they can only take out a max of $800 USD.

The bank at home was great and we filed all the paperwork and they redeposited our money after a few weeks. I'm just glad we caught it the first day! Now we only use the ATM at the bank we have our SA account at.

It's definitely rampant here. So sad for such a beautiful place.


Sine said...

Thanks for sharing, Stephanie. I've also heard another story of an employee of my husband's who gut mugged and taken for a long drive, then stripped of her money and car, after getting money at a bank machine in Woodmead (not known to be a danger zone!). So, in addition to only using your South African bank card, I would also counsel other expats to always get money at a very safe bank machine at a safe time of day.

W. A. Jeffrey said...

It is crazy that SA has so much petty (and not so petty) theft. I think it has become a cultural thing and something that needs to be addressed severely. SA will never reach her full potential with such widespread theft. Odd as it may sound, I blame socialism and the revolutionary twaddle the ANC has been peddling since its founding.