Scam Tenders - a cautionary tale

Scam Tenders - a cautionary tale

This week’s Consumerwatch is a cautionary tale for small businesses. I’m very grateful to a Durban businesswoman - who I’ll call Sarah, for sharing her story with us in a bid to warn others.

Scam Alert
iStock: Natasaadzic

Listen to the podcast or read the story below:

She found no warnings online about any of the companies involved, but she did miss some tell-tale signs in her dealings with the fraudsters, and that’s been her very expensive lesson.

The scam began on May 22 with an emailed invitation to the company, purportedly from the procurement department of the Drakenstein Municipality near Paarl in the Cape. 

“Good day, the municipality would like to extend an invitation to your company to supply the attached product(s). Some of the product(s) that we may request may fall out of your scope of work, therefore we would like you to outsource for the product(s) and supply the Municipality as we are urgently looking for a reliable supplier to supply us.”

(Dodgy spelling and sentence construction are always a red flag for fraudulent correspondence)

The product was an insulated suit and the “municipality” wanted 150 of them.

Sarah and her colleagues immediately started sourcing that suit, and found only one supplier, Calton Traders, based in Durban. Another red flag. Having taken a look at the website, it’s clear it’s just a fake website created by the same fraudsters.

"Calton Traders” sent Sarah a quote and confirmed they had stock and could supply those 150 protective, insulated black and yellow suits within the required time frame, so Sarah completed the tender document and submitted it to “Drakenstein Municipality” on May 30.

Almost three weeks later, on June 18, they got an acceptance letter from a “Mandisa Sibeko”, appointing their company to supply and deliver the insulated suits by June 21. 

A woman named Mandisa Sibeko does work for that municipality, but the person who emailed Sarah was not her - he or she had assumed her identity. When I Googled her I found a different phone number under her contact details from the phone number the fraudster had inserted in the email to Sarah’s company.

So there’s your first tip - always check out phone numbers. In good faith, Sarah ordered those suits and paid "Calton Traders" R136,275 for them on June 19 - they said they wouldn’t deliver without full payment.

Delivery was promised on June 21 before 9am. 

Of course, that never happened. The company got a call saying the supplier’s truck was still in Newcastle so the order would only arrive at 3pm. 

At 4pm there was another call saying the truck was broken down outside Pietermaritzburg. That was when Sarah, the company owner, began to fear the worst.

They then were promised the order would be delivered to her home at 2pm the next day - Saturday. 

That didn’t happen, so first thing Monday morning, Sarah went into investigative mode, which is how she discovered that both the tender and the company she had ordered from were fictitious and that the VAT number on Calton Traders’ quote and the invoice belonged to a company in Pretoria which was aware that their VAT number was being used for scams. 

She also called the Drakenstein Municipality and got hold of the real Mandisa Sibeko, who knew nothing of the tender request, but was also aware that her name was being used in the commission of tender fraud. 

Again, there were no warnings to be found online. 
Sarah has contacted her bank’s fraud department, which opened a case, as have the police. She has resigned herself to not getting any of that money back, but she wants to warn other businesses and she’ll certainly be a lot more skeptical on receiving tender invitations or orders in the future.

Interestingly, genuine Drakenstein Municipality emails come from the address The fraudster used something deceptively similar -

Always check email addresses for such discrepancies. It will also spare you falling victim to the intercepted invoice email scam that’s catching a lot of people.

In fact, whenever you receive an invoice via email, check all the details thoroughly - and not by calling any number on that invoice!

We honestly can’t afford to take anything at face value anymore.

And remember, if you get a call from someone claiming to be calling from your bank’s fraud department about fraudulent transactions that are about to be processed on your account, be on very high alert, and DO NOT give the caller any numbers that appear on your cellphone screen. 

End the call and then phone your bank - having sourced the number yourself - and ask the fraud department if there are any alerts on your account. Chances are they will say no. Credit card fraud is absolutely rife at the moment.

From “Calton Traders”’  website - the very suit which the fraudsters had specified in their tender documents.


Also read: How costly are your car’s parts?

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