Riot Hlatshwayo

Riot Hlatshwayo

A Johannesburg company nearly deposited a whopping R3million into a bogus account for Mpumalanga's Mbombela municipality.

The money was for an outstanding electricity bill.

Sonae Novobord (Pty) Ltd, which has a factory in White River, confirmed it was nearly duped into "a real mess".

Kaushik Maganbeharie, one of Sonae Novobord's credit officers, said she received a letter from the factory showing that Mbombela municipality's bank details had changed.

Maganbeharie decided to confirm the letter, on a Mbombela municipality letterhead, with the municipality's accountant for revenue and customer care, Serrah Vilane.

So she sent an e-mail.

"Hi Serrah. I have received a letter from our factory, saying the Mbombela banking details have changed. I do not want to change it on our system till I get confirmation from you. Best regards."

Vilane told Maganbeharie that the letter was fraudulent and also warned the municipality about the scam.

"Please take note that this is a scam. The police are working on it, together with our banking service provider," Vilane wrote in a letter to the municipality shortly after communicating with Maganbeharie.

"It seems the letter comes in various forms, advising Mbombela local municipality clients of Standard Bank, Nedbank and FNB banking details," she added.

Sonae Novobord got the letter from factory administrator Irma Coetzee.

"I believed the letter because it had the municipality's logo," Coetzee said.

"We could easily have deposited over R3million into the account if we had not confirmed with Mbombela," she said.

"I also think this is an inside job within the Mbombela municipality because otherwise where could the fraudsters get the letterheads and even send us our correct account details for the electricity?" asked Coetzee.

The fraudulent letter sent to Coetzee reads: "Please note that our banking details have changed as per on the statement. Our new system separates the account for the payments from that of receipts, please contact John the head of creditors."

The letter was signed by a John Ndlovu who left a cell phone number under his name. When Sowetan contacted "Ndlovu" pretending to want to meet him, he said: "It's impossible. Have you ever met Jesus? Meeting me is like meeting him."

Mbombela municipality spokesman Vusi Sibiya said he would interact with the municipality's finance manager today to establish how many other clients might have been conned.