The biggest single payment in these cases was that of R70,000.
Hundreds of people in KwaZulu-Natal have allegedly lost more than R500,000 to a conman posing as well-known local traditional healer and president of SA Traditional Healers Institute, Gogo Bathini Mbatha.
The conman’s masterstroke was to take over the traditional healer’s cellphone number listed on his culture, rituals, and health YouTube channel, which has 50,000 subscribers and attracts more than 450,000 viewers.
The next thing was to pretend to be Mbatha, coerce, and sometimes pressure unsuspecting people to make cash deposits at banks and through cash-send features at retail stores.
The scam, which started around September last year, has seen scores of people losing between R2,000 and R70,000.
A couple from Port Shepstone on the South Coast, only realized they had been conned when they arrived at Mbatha’s herbal chemist in Empangeni, moments after depositing R5,000 into the conman’s account.
Victim Sifiso Hadebe said they were about to deposit another R2,500 requested by the man on the other end of the line when a cashier at the herbal shop arrived and told them Mbatha would never request money on the phone.
“Mbatha eventually arrived and the man called me, using the same number, to ask whether I had deposited the money,” he said.
Hadebe explained that they came to know of Mbatha from his YouTube channel and decided to call the number on the page to seek medical help.
“I explained my problem and he said I should deposit R5,000, even though I explained that I was on my way to his herbal chemist. I was puzzled when he said I should deposit more cash while I was at the chemist and still had not seen him,” Hadebe said.
Mbatha said this was not the first time his number was taken over, adding he believed it was the work of a very sophisticated syndicate which was targeting popular healers and pastors.
He said when it first happened last year, he was in India but managed to get his service provider to retrieve the number.
“This time, it has been impossible. I have tried every means and I feel defeated. My biggest problem is that while some people are understanding of my situation, others do not believe my story and have threatened my life,” Mbatha said.
The number of people scammed this way is still unclear but Mbatha believed it was hundreds of people that he was aware of, saying his estimate was that R500,000 has been lost to this “syndicate”. The biggest single payment in these cases was that of R70,000.
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