Pensioner falls victim to cryptocurrency scam

Published May 6, 2024


A PENSIONER who was scammed by fraudsters who obtained control over her bank account urgently turned to court for the banks to hold the money on ice.

The fraudsters paid an amount of R960 960.19 in 23 different transactions on the same day into bank accounts of a part-time cryptocurrency trader at Capitec and Absa.

Dirkie Wessels, 67, received the money as part of an inheritance from farmland which was sold. But unbeknown to her, she fell victim to cyber scammers.

The two banks placed a precautionary hold on the accounts of Rowen Petrus, a part time cryptocurrency trader on the Binance platform. Petrus, however, maintained in this application before the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, that he is an innocent party in all of this.

The banks meanwhile told Wessels that they could not place a hold on Petrus’ bank accounts indefinitely without a court order.

Wessels wanted the money to be frozen pending the finalisation of another application in which she intended to ask for an order that Petrus pay her the money back which was deposited into his account.

Wessels told the court that last year she received an inheritance from the proceeds of a sale of farmland which she invested in a six-month fixed account with Capitec Bank

In February this year she received an SMS from an unknown person, stating: “Payment notification: Transaction debited R11 700 on Takealot.”

She was provided with a reference number and a number to call if this transaction was not hers. She was alarmed by the message as she had not ordered anything from Takealot.

Wessels called the number in the SMS and the call was answered by a certain “Tessa Smit” speaking with an Indian accent. She advised that she was working with Capitec’s Fraud Department and that her investment account was hacked and that they suspect that it was an inside job.

Wessels was instructed to go to a Capitec branch and to arrange for a transfer of her funds from her fixed account to a savings account. The applicant was assured by the fraudster that she was being helped to secure her funds from people who were trying to transact on her account and who were attempting to misappropriate her invested funds.

Wesels was told to advise “Tessa Smit” via WhatsApp once the transaction was done in order for her to commence reversals of the transactions on her account.

Wessels followed the instructions and transferred an amount of R1 026 590.23 into her savings account. She then advised “Tessa” that it had been done.

The latter explained the process of rectifying and reversing the fraud. In order to do so the applicant was requested to permit the installation of an app called “AnyDesk” on her cell phone, which was then installed.

From there the fraudsters took control of her phone and she was unable to perform any functions on the device. Soon afterwards she saw an amount of R3 500 being deposited into an Absa account in the name of Tarryn Hill. The applicant asked “Tessa” who this person was, and she said it is the account the hacker had paid her money into. She contended that she was busy reversing the transaction in order that it be returned to her account.

Then the name of Petrus appeared on her screen and also an Absa account. After this, more transactions were transferred to him as his name kept appearing on the notifications on her screen. The applicant was told by the fraudster that these transactions were happening on her account, but she was busy with the “Nigerian Fraud Department”.

The telephone conversation lasted a few hours, and once she hung up, a notification came up on Wessels’ phone which showed that she only had R35 left in her account. It was then that she realised that she had been scammed.

Petrus meanwhile transferred the money from his Capitec account into his Absa account. He admitted all the transactions are from Wessels’ account, but he maintained that she is the victim of fraud and that he has nothing to do with it.

He said that the bank accounts in question are his daily transactional accounts.

Wessels accused him of failing to verify the identity of his client and failed to verify the source of funding. But Petrus said he did nothing wrong, as he often received large numbers of cash in his account from his clients.

As Wessels did not accuse him of being a scammer, Petrus argued that she has a claim against the scamsters and not against him. He said she should have known she was being scammed by unknown fraudsters.

Petrus explained that he used the Binance platform for his crypto currency trading and he trusted it to verify the identity of the purchaser. He further explained that he received an order to purchase cryptocurrency for large amounts from a person reflected on the Binance platform as being Wessels.

The court said a cryptocurrency trader in the position of Petrus should foresee the risk of money laundering on a platform like Binance and for that reason verify the identity of his clients. But, the court said Petrus’ indifference to Wessels’ plight is not enough to establish the risk that he intends dissipating assets with the view to frustrating her claim.

The court turned down the urgent application but Wessels can now pursue her claim to get her money back.

Pretoria News

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