Cops unveil 419 Web site


The police are planning to introduce a Web site to warn the public about 419 scams.

The SA Police Service (SAPS) will launch a Web site to warn South Africans about current and past 419 scams. SAPS states every two to three weeks there are new 419 scams from various crime syndicates.

“I have been on the radio once or twice to warn people about the new scams,” says SAPS special investigating unit superintendent Leon Engelbrecht. “We have now decided to start a new Web site where we will be warning people about the scams on a regular basis.”

He adds 419 scams are predominantly being perpetrated over the Internet and new scams also involve criminals defrauding people out of their money at unlikely venues, such as shopping malls.

All about fraud

Engelbrecht says the SAPS aims at charging 419 scammers with fraud above all other crimes. “We try to throw the book at these guys so you`ll find that we`ll charge them with fraud first, then robbery and attempted robbery,” he explains.

Last week, five Nigerian men, a Nigerian woman and a South African man kidnapped Japanese businessman Osamai Hitomi when he arrived in the country on Friday, and drove him to a house in Alberton. The fraudsters had lured the businessman to SA with a promise of a business opportunity and drove him to Alberton where they held him for ransom.

The victim`s family alerted the police, and the Johannesburg organised crime unit, the Gauteng crime management centre and the head office crime intelligence division found the victim and arrested the seven on Sunday morning. They appeared at the Johannesburg Magistrate Court on Tuesday 30 September, where Magistrate Simon Radasi postponed the case to 7 October.

What to do

Telspace Systems CEO Dino Covotsos says it is hard for the police to prevent 419 scams from taking place, save to make Internet users more aware of these scams. He explains e-mail-based 419s make use of simple communication between a scammer and his intended victim and it cannot be easily identified and intercepted. They are often written in plain text and have no attachments, so even anti-spam and anti-virus software will not pick them up.

“More and more anti-spam and anti-virus software are now beginning to recognise these scam e-mails and block them before they reach the e-mail user. Furthermore, it can be argued that 419 scams are almost exclusively for those with Internet connection, even though there have been local cases of SMS 419 scams in the guise of fake lottery wins making the rounds,” says Covotsos.

Police can do more for spreading awareness about 419 scams in SA, Covotsos adds. He proposes television and radio campaigns.

“The police should try and implement a toll-free number, like their crime line, where people should feel comfortable about phoning and asking whether or not a potential scam is phony or not. This should go for all SMS competitions, lotteries and any other forms of communication that look suspicious. But, awareness is the most important.”

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