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26 July 2011 at 14:37 - Posted by Anonymous

Rental vehicle ‘sale’ scam exposed


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Thomas van der Westhuizen paid for cars that were allegedly sold to him fraudulently.

A Pretoria businessman has exposed a rental vehicles scam involving millions of rand which has left scores of car owners across the country out of pocket, with some of them potentially destitute.

Not satisfied with having the suspected 42-year-old fraudster arrested, Thomas van der Westhuizen approached the Pretoria High Court at the weekend to get an urgent court order to freeze the bank accounts of the suspect’s spouse, a major in the SANDF, to prevent any further losses.

The suspect was arrested at Van der Westhuizen’s Arcadia home when he tried to sell him several cars at the weekend.

Van der Westhuizen, who lost R1.6 million in the alleged scam, is determined to ensure that everyone involved in the scam is brought to book.

The exposure of the scam has seen several car rental agencies recovering dozens of their missing vehicles from their new “owners”, leaving many out of pocket and without transport.

The owner of several coal mines, Van der Westhuizen said the first time he realised he had been conned was when he went to a Mercedes-Benz dealership to establish the origins of the car he had bought.

To his horror he discovered that the car, along with five others he had bought from the alleged con artist, were owned by the South African car rental company Budget.

Businessmen, homeowners and motorists from across Gauteng, Mpumalanga, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State have fallen victim to the scam.

Explaining how the alleged scam worked, Van der Westhuizen said the con artist would tell a prospective buyer that he was involved in the sale of repossessed vehicles.

“He told us that he sold repossessed cars at unbelievable rates and that he could get any vehicle we wanted. He then asks what car you are looking for and shows you a list and tells you to choose a car.

“Once we had selected our six cars, which we paid R1.6m for, he told us he would deliver them to us. When he did, we asked for the licensing, owners’ and registration forms, but the man said it would take up to three months to get them from the banks.

“When I asked why, he said this was the period it took for the banks to release the documents. Right then I should have become suspicious,” he said.

He said he became worried when after four months he still had not received the vehicle ownership documents. “When I went to Mercedes-Benz to check the vehicle’s details I discovered that it and my other cars were in fact owned by Budget,” he said.

Van der Westhuizen began his own investigations and discovered that he was just one of many of the suspect’s victims.

“Our investigations, with the help of the police, have revealed that this man has allegedly been using friends’ credit cards to rent cars which he then apparently sells to unsuspecting people. When I found this out and discovered that the account that I had deposited the money into belonged to his wife, I went to court to have her accounts frozen,” he said.

Van der Westhuizen said his biggest hope was the suspect, who was allegedly earlier released on parole after serving seven years in prison for fraud, and the others involved were sent to jail.

Like Van der Westhuizen, Pretoria businessmen Thomas van Dalen and Willie Roos have collectively been conned out of R600 000 and have had their vehicles returned to the car rental agencies.

Roos, a quantity surveyor, said the con had cost him R505 000.

“I bought a Toyota Hilux bakkie and a Chevy Spark for R270 000. I then sold my other car and paid the R235 000 I made from the sale for another bakkie which has never been delivered.

“Now with the rental company taking their cars back I have no money and no transport. I am such an idiot. I have tried to have the payments reversed, but the banks don’t seem optimistic.

“I don’t know what to do. I need that money and I need a car,” he said.

Asked if they knew others who had been conned, Van Dalen said at least three of his friends had fallen for the scam.

“The only difference with them is that they paid the money over but they never received their cars. We don’t even know if the vehicles actually existed,” he said.

Budget national risk manager William Douglas said five of the company’s vehicles had been recovered.

“Fortunately we were able to recover our vehicles, which include a BMW, Mercedes-Benz, a VW Polo and a Suzuki, which we found in Pretoria and in Nelspruit.

“The cars were taken in June and were allegedly sold to unsuspecting people over the last two months,” he said.

Police spokesman Warrant Officer Duane Lightfoot confirmed that a case of fraud had been opened and that a suspect had been arrested.

graeme.hosken@inl.co.za - Pretoria News

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