Several farmers and agriculturalists tell Food For Mzansi that they’ve recently received suspicious calls and messages from what turned out to be scammers. This includes criminals posing as members of the media, suppliers of discounted agricultural inputs or even government inspectors. In many of the incidents, the tricksters lure victims into meeting them at designated areas for “supposed” business discussions.
Nezisa Sogoni, founder of Nezisa Sogoni Poultry Farm in Butterworth, Eastern Cape, says she too received a tempting message from someone claiming to be Media24’s head of publication at Drum.
When the farmer followed up on the message, she was informed that the publication wanted to do feature on her and her business. Sogoni was asked to urgently book a flight ticket to Johannesburg at a prescribed travel agent. The costs would be covered by the magazine, which has since stopped printing due to economic constraints.
As an up-and-coming farmer, Sogoni says she was chuffed by the apparent opportunity. However, she quickly grew suspicious after doing a quick Google search. She discovered the name on the website didn’t match the name in the message she received on 25 June 2020 and decided to report the matter to Drum.
“In the message, my name is even spelt wrong, and any big publication would never send a text message, but rather call first. If I wasn’t vigilant, chances are I would have been dead by now. There’s a lot of human trafficking going on and this is how the perpetrators fool us. These guys know who to target. They see us on social media and know what kind of business we are in,” Sogoni says.
Young farmers urged to not be naïve
National chairperson of the Black Farmers Association (BFASA) Brenda Nosipho tells Food For Mzansi that it is terrible that farmers are being targeted this way.
“During this time of covid-19 there are many chancers out there. Young farmers must understand that although they are up-and-coming and would like to have as much exposure as possible for their enterprises, they shouldn’t be naïve and trust everybody,” says Nosipho.
The BFASA chairperson is also asking farmers to be careful when ordering implements online.
According to Neo Masithela, chairperson of the African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa), this form of crime on the agricultural community is nothing new.
“Both farmers and farm workers should be alert because the unintended consequences of what the scammers are doing is, they are retarding food production at the farm. On a day that these criminals do this a farmer, that farmer is losing time to produce,” Masithela explains.
Afasa calls on all farmers to verify and double-check the identities of people before attempting to disclose any confidential information about their businesses. “It is well and good for your farm to be publicised, but it is also highly risky if you don’t know people in the industry to learn the ropes from them.”
Fake government inspectors and social media accounts
In the Northern Cape, farmers and employers have also reported suspicious individuals posing as labour inspectors in an attempt to access their farms.
The department of employment and labour at the Calvinia labour centre warns farmers and employers to be on the look-out for these suspicious characters. The department since publicly announced that all inspections and enforcement services are operating remotely and do not do active inspections across the province.
“Our inspectors are currently performing administrative inspections remotely due to the national lockdown and responding to Impimpa hotline cases, as well as emergency Occupational Health and Safety Act inspections when the need arises,” says provincial chief inspector Ivan Vass.
In a recent media statement published by her department, the minister of agriculture, Thoko Didiza, also distanced herself from fake social media accounts opened in her name.
The minister confirms that she is not on any social media platform and that there is no European Union development funding programme which she is involved in. “I urge all of you to be vigilant against anyone who personifies me and these fraudsters are working day and night to get your hard earned money.”
This matter was reported to both the South African Police Service (SAPS) and Facebook. Didiza also urges affected parties to continue verifying with her office upon receiving such requests and to open criminal cases with the police.