Case # 242/4/2012 is now officially registered with the Hammanskraal police department, according to the text message I just received. This follows an hour and a half at the station yesterday, talking with police officers and detectives, and dictating an official statement under oath.
Let me take you back a couple weeks to fill in some details. While talking to Amos one day about his new shop, we got on the topic of the soft serve ice cream machine that he had purchased back in September, as part of the building loan from us and our friends. Ice cream was flying out of his shop for the first couple of weeks, with no other competition in the area. Everyone was high-fiving as profits were great. After a month, cones were only selling at a rate of 3 or 4 per day instead of 30-40 like the first couple of weeks. It seemed that the novelty wore off and people weren’t so excited to spend their extra money on this kind of a treat. Amos started to only offer ice cream on select days as the mix used for the ice cream doesn’t last so long when frequently being frozen and thawed, plus it took a bit of work each day to clean the machine. After a couple months of this, the decision was made to not even try to sell ice cream anymore.
Amos and I decided the best thing to do would be to try to sell the machine while it was still relatively new. Junkmail is a popular online classifieds website, similar to Craigslist in the US, and I listed the machine for sale on a Thursday, at a slight discount from what we had paid for it new. With many other ice cream machines already listed in this area, I wasn’t sure there would be any interest in ours.
Saturday morning of the same week, I got a call from a guy named Gary who was interested in the machine. He asked some questions about the condition of it and the reasons we were selling it. After a couple of minutes, he offered to buy it for the listed price if I’d deliver it to Johannesburg. The plan was that he would make an internet transfer between his bank account and Amos’ since they used the same bank. I told Gary that once Amos received confirmation the money was in his account, I would deliver the machine. I got Amos’ bank information for Gary and he called me a couple hours later saying that the transfer had been done. I called Amos to confirm. He had just gotten a text message that R9000(about $1150) had been deposited in his account. Because he was at a church retreat for the weekend, I drove to his house to get the machine and headed to Joburg to meet up with Gary’s nephew at a gas station that was a good meeting point in between where I was coming from and where he lived. Gary was at work and his nephew was available to meet me.
The delivery happened without incident, after a little struggle to find the gas station in the unfamiliar area. His nephew was a nice guy, and explained that his uncle owned many ice cream machines and placed them around the country at different businesses. I headed home, happy for Amos and pleased that it had sold so quickly.
Monday morning, I received a call from Gary saying that his secretary had accidentally transferred an additional R19,000 into Amos’ account that morning and he asked if we could go to the bank and transfer it back. Since we were house sitting in Pretoria at the time and Amos doesn’t have his own car and works until after the bank closes each day, I told Gary I could go pick up Amos the next day to reverse the transfer. Tuesday afternoon, Amos and I went to the bank. We found out that due to the Easter holiday, the money wouldn’t be available to access until Wednesday. No problem, Amos was going to be getting off early that next Friday, so he could stop at the bank on his way home and make the transfer. Late Friday afternoon, I got a text from Amos saying the money still wasn’t available and wouldn’t be until the following Wednesday. It wasn’t clear to me why this was, but TIA, and everything takes longer here.
So last week Wednesday, Amos and I headed to the bank once again. We were not expecting to hear what we did. Apparently, the day before, both the R19k and R9k had been taken out of Amos’ account due to problems with the checks. “What checks?” I thought, the R9k was supposed to have been an internet transfer. The bank teller explained that all she could see in the system is that the two deposits had been made via a check brought into a bank in Joburg and that there was a problem with the checks, maybe the amounts were written wrong or something wasn’t filled in. To say I was getting a little worried is an understatement. But maybe there was a good explanation. Fortunately, Gary had sent me a text message with his banking details, so I had a way to get in touch with him still. Thursday morning, I called Gary. I was told that he wasn’t in and that I should call him on his other cell phone. When I said I didn’t have another number and asked for it, the guy on the other end hung up the phone. I called right back, but no one answered.
I waited till Friday morning to call back again. This time when the phone was answered and I asked for Gary, I was told to wait and Gary came on the line a couple seconds later. I explained to him who I was and that there was a problem with the payment at the bank. He kind of chuckled and said something that I didn’t understand. I asked him to repeat it a couple of times before I understood that he was saying “It was all a scam!”. He laughed again and hung up the phone.
Apparently what happened was that instead of doing an internet transfer like I was told would happen, a check was used for the payment. With a transfer, the money would actually be in Amos’ account right away. The bank sends out the same text message for all deposits, so we didn’t know it was a check and not a transfer at the time. Because a check takes 7 days to clear the bank, these guys either cancelled the check before it cleared or they intentionally made a mistake on it so it wouldn’t be accepted at the bank.
So now we are back to the present. Yesterday Amos and I went to the police station to report the incident. After having us get an account statement from the bank, they took a written statement from each of us. Because the machine exchange happened in Joburg, the Hammanskraal police will open the case but then transfer it to the Joburg police to follow up on it. I also called the bank, but they said they couldn’t help us and they mentioned they had heard about this type of thing happening before.
I’m not very confident that we will get any money back. We will see if the police can track down an address from the cell phone number of “Gary”. Possibly they can get footage from a surveillance camera at the gas station where the machine exchange happened.