Raymond Jaravaza, Showbiz Correspondent
Less than five minutes after meeting a smooth-talking stranger at the corner of George Silundika Street and 9th Avenue in Bulawayo, a dazed Nomalanga Masina feels like she has just woken up from a bad dream.
Reality quickly dawns upon her that she is not dreaming. It’s broad daylight and she is standing on a busy Bulawayo street, not the ideal place to be day-dreaming.
Masina has just been scammed of R200 and $5 and left standing next to a white Toyota double cab that she has no idea who it belongs to.
But just how did the confused 20-year-old hand over her money to a total stranger and minutes later, left stranded in the middle of a street, feeling dazed like she has been hit by a tonne of bricks?
It all started with a seemingly innocent conversation with the stranger — a well-dressed and soft-spoken middle-aged man she met at a street corner near the Chronicle offices.
“I was on my way to LSU (Lupane State University) offices at the NRZ Building to meet a relative when I met this guy and he asked me if I could give him directions to the World Vision offices.
“He said he worked in Gwanda and was not familiar with Bulawayo streets and also wanted assistance with offloading some boxes from his vehicle. He said the boxes contained food aid for the less-privileged,” narrated Masina.
The two would soon be joined by a second man, who feigns to have overheard their conversation about offloading boxes from a vehicle.
“The other guy first apologised for eavesdropping and said he also wanted to help offload the boxes. At this point the two men were pretending not to know each other and the guy that had first approached me said he would pay us $50 to help him offload the boxes,” she said.
With the victim having fallen for the scam hook, line and sinker, the conman made his move.
“He asked us to put our belongings in two separate envelopes for safekeeping because the people at World Vision would not be held liable in case we lost our stuff while offloading the boxes and putting them in their offices.
“I put the money that I had on me in an envelope and the other guy did the same and while he sealed my envelope, a $5 note fell from his pocket and was blown away by the wind a couple of metres from where we were standing,” she went on.
Unbeknown to her, the few seconds it took for her to pick up the $5 note was the perfect opportunity the conman was looking for.
“When I handed over the $5 note, he gave me back my envelope saying there was no need for him to hold onto it and that I should put it my bag and we walked to his car. The other guy was also handed back the envelope with his belongings.
“After a while, he said he was going around the corner and asked us to watch his car and not let anyone go near it lest they steal the boxes inside,” she said.
According to Masina, the other guy she had been “employed” with excused himself to buy a cigarette and promised to be back shortly.
The scam had been completed.
Waiting in vain for the two men to return, the victim of the job scam found herself standing next to the Toyota in the hope her part time employer would resurface, but at the same time, hit with an urge to check the envelope containing her belongings.
The R200 and $5 had been replaced with pieces of scrap paper.
After realising this, she opened a case at the Bulawayo Central Police Station under case number IR 4254/20. The attending officer at the front desk told Masina that many more victims had walked through the doors of the city’s largest police station narrating similar incidents and opening cases of fraud.
“I was told to come back to the station after a day so that they can assign an investigating officer to my case. Apparently, more people have been swindled the same way I was conned and the police are taking the cases very seriously,” she added.
Sixty-three-year-old Tongai Muridzi has lived to tell a tale of how he was also duped more than three decades ago.
“It’s an old scam that hit Bulawayo around the 90s especially in the industrial areas where young men would seek employment in the factories. The conmen would promise people part-time jobs, usually to offload some stuff from a truck, but would first ask you to surrender all your belongings into a single bag for safe keeping.
“I was conned near the Lobels Bread plant in Belmont Industrial area and they got away with my transport money and national identity document.
“During those days, there were no cellphones so I had no one to call for assistance and had no choice but to walk from Belmont to Old Magwegwe where I stayed with my brother,” Muridzi, a retired factory worker, told Saturday Leisure.
Blessing Mlilo, who works for a local recruitment company, believes the high number of job seekers, especially among the youths, is one of the reasons why the seemingly old scam still works.
“People are desperate for jobs or anything to put food on the table so they grab any opportunity to make money with both hands. While some conmen prowl the streets looking for gullible and desperate job seekers, there are also online scammers who rip off people of their money using the Internet.
“The online modus operandi usually involves promises of a job and the victims are requested to deposit a certain amount of money on EcoCash for administration purposes.
“Job seekers must be careful of employment opportunities that come with conditions such as paying a faceless individual money for whatever reasons, be it the so-called administrative costs,” warned Mlilo.
For Masina, the saying that all that glitters is not gold will always be a reminder that she must not believe everything she is told at face value.
“I have lived in Bulawayo for the last two years and had no idea that such a scam existed. I have always been cautious of pickpockets and avoiding walking alone at night for fear of being mugged, but now, I know better”.
One of the pieces of paper stuffed in the envelope that was handed over to Masina, has a Qur’an scripture that reads: “Do not despair of God’s mercy. He will forgive you for all your sins”. — @RaymondJaravaza.