Fraudsters leave Grahamstown man broke, distraught
By Sue Maclennan
A Grahamstown entrepreneur says scamsters who persuaded him to part with a R10 000 deposit for a large order of army boots purportedly destined for the South African National Defence Force have destroyed him.
Ndumiso Nkonki says he has been juggling small enterprises since 2008. In 2014, he set up Private Eye Community Watch, which now has offices in Lingelihle, Extension 6. He also recently established a non-profit soup kitchen there, which is generously sponsored by local businesses.
Last year, Nkonki registered to be a supplier of stationery and office equipment to government departments.
He was overjoyed when he received an emailed letter on 14 March this year purporting to be from the Department of Defence and inviting him to tender for the supply of 60 Z10 Tactical Boots.
He immediately conducted some research on who in the area could supply such specialised equipment and discovered, through Google, that exactly what he was looking for was sold at a business conveniently nearby in Port Elizabeth.
The website showed a large area with extensive army equipment and accessories on display and when Nkonki called, they were friendly and helpful. Indeed they stocked Z10 Tactical Boots and yes, they could supply 60 at short notice. They sent him a quotation, asking for a R10 000 deposit. The balance and courier costs could be paid once he had received payment from the Department.
Nkonki quickly submitted his tender and was thrilled to receive a letter on what appeared to be the Department of Defence letterhead, dated 20 March, confirming that he had been successful.
The boots were due in Pretoria on 26 March. He borrowed money to pay the deposit, sent through his proof of payment and spoke again to the friendly, helpful person in Port Elizabeth.
No problem – the boots would be dispatched the next day, he was told.
On 26 March he received a call from the person who had signed his confirmation letter to ask where the boots were.
Annoyed, he called the PE company, and was told the driver had got lost in Pretoria but was on his way to the army now.
“From then until now, that person kept giving me stories as to why the boots hadn’t arrived yet,” Ndumiso said.
Eventually he decided to go to the business personally and confront them.
When he got to the Newton Park address, he was surprised to see an entirely different business there – a digital processing and print shop.
When they heard his story, the owner told Nonke, “You’re not the only one!” Others had come to check out the shop before they had deposited the cash, however.
“I’m just a small businessperson,” said Nkonki. “I didn’t have money to travel to PE.”
Whoever defrauded him took a lot of trouble to create a realistic impression that there was a real business, Nkonki said.
At first glance, the documents Grocott’s Mail saw appeared to tick all the right boxes.
“When I found them they had a website. It was really smart and in the photos, you could see all kinds of army equipment displayed on the shelves.
“When I got back from PE I googled the company again and I couldn’t find it. It was gone – nowhere.”
This week, Nkonki opened a case of fraud at the Grahamstown Police Station. He shared his story with Grocott’s Mail because he doesn’t want others to get caught in the same way.
Grocott’s Mail has not yet had the opportunity to get comment from the Department of Defence, nor have we done our own investigation into the Port Elizabeth business. However, the Grahamstown Police confirm the case.
“This is the first such case this year, but last year we also had a case relating to the providing of supplies in Pretoria,” said Police spokesperson Captain Mali Govender.
That case had involved the use of another government department’s credentials, however, and not those of the Department of Defence.
“They destroyed me,” Nkonki said. “It’s happened. They caught me. I’m a small business and had little money. Now I have to pay back the person I borrowed from to pay the deposit.”