MAJOR grant fraud scam
Nearly 1000 women on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast appear to be the victims of a "major scam" being carried out by individuals claiming to be in the employ of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).
The SIU is linked to the Assets Forfeiture Unit which falls under the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
The women are employed but had successful ly applied for child support grants through the Department of Social Welfare.
They have now been visited by the "investigators" and forced to pay back the money, some as much as R80000.
The scam is known to be happening elsewhere in the country and could run into millions of rands.
The women have appealed to social development MEC Meshack Hadebe to help them.
In most instances the women are visited by the "investigators" at their workplaces and informed that they have or are illegally claiming child support grants.
They are then told to sign an acknowledgement of debt document allowing the "unit" to debit their bank accounts at the end of every month.
A group of women who work at a car parts manufacturing firm in KwaDukuza were informed in December last year that they owed between R27000 and R80000 each.
Sowetan was able to confirm that 800 women had been visited by the the so-called SIU individuals.
The women were told they had "defrauded the Department of Social Welfare".
The women told Sowetan yesterday that they were ordered to sign the acknowledgement of debt forms brought by the "forensic investigators".
Fundisiwe Betty Cele, 39, of KwaSithebe is one of those affected.
Cele, a mother of seven, earns R2400 a month and uses the money to support her family of seven children, a relative and the relative's child.
She said she applied for child support grant in 2002 and three years later she also registered another child to get the money.
"I only collected the money for the two children, one is four and the other is eight, and I was shocked when these people arrived at my workplace with all my details and told me that I have defrauded the state of nearly R19000.
"They said this had accumulated to R27000 because of interest and VAT."
She was told to sign the acknowledgement of debt or face legal action and she duly signed.
The debit order was for a monthly deduction of R456 in favour of the SIU, said Cele.
"They showed me a list with lots of names. I was told to fill in my bank details and sign away my money every month," she said.
Another woman, Dudu Gumede, said she only collected the grant for one year and was told by the SIU that she owed the government R18000.
"Something is not right here. We want Hadebe to come and address this issue," she said.
"We know we might have been collecting the money illegally but the grant was cancelled and now I have to pay back so much money, more than what I collected, it's unfair," said Gumede.
The forms that the women filled appear to be those used by the SIU but without the proper letterheads.
The monies are deposited into an SIU account in East London and not Pretoria where the unit's head office is.
Spokesman for the social development department, Mandla Ngema, said the action of these individuals appeared to be "of a criminal nature".
"The unit is tasked to investigate and if they find that someone wrongfully collected the money, they contact the police and that person is arrested.
"It is the court that decides the penalty, not the unit.
"Those people are committing a crime and they will be thoroughly investigated and arrested if need be," said Ngema.
"I urge all those people affected to forward the relevant information to the department so that this matter can be investigated."