Online scam leaves family homeless, saddled with US$2 000 debt
Thupeyo Muleya Beitbridge Bureau
Over a decade ago, Mr Taurai Amani (71) of Dulivhadzimu in Beitbridge, lost part of some illegal structures at his house during Operation Restore Order (Murambatsvina).
When the illegal additions were destroyed in compliance with urban settlement laws, Mr Amani was left with just two rooms to share with his family.
Since then, the senior citizen dreamt of owning a big house to accommodate his children and grandchildren in future.
However, Mr Amani’s dream turned into a terrible nightmare in 2019 when one of his sons came home with a message on his cellphone indicating that he had won £1 million from an online competition run in the United Kingdom.
Unbeknown to the father and son, it was a scam.
As part of the terms and conditions, Mr Amani’s son was asked by the scammers to deposit US$2 000 through Western Union so that his prize of £1 million would be sent to Zimbabwe.
The old man was excited, but had no money at that time.
He had to borrow from another resident, Mr Collen Golden, on the understanding that he would repay upon getting his windfall from the UK.
Mr Amani then sent his son to pay the US$2 000 via Western Union.
Trouble started when the scammers demanded another US$1 000; that is when he went to verify with the police about the competition and how one recovered the money.
After the enquiry, it became clear to Mr Amani that he had been conned.
Now, he has failed to pay back the US$2 000 soft loan he got, and since he used his house as collateral to get the money, that too has since been seized by Mr Golden.
The Amani family was last Wednesday evicted from the house on the strength of a court order.
Their misery has brought together the community, which a few weeks ago, had been divided on political lines as the country headed for the August 23 polls.
“This is very unfortunate,” said a neighbour, Mr Boyd Maphosa. “We are now mobilising money so that we can repay the debt, which now stands at U$4 000 (because of interest).”
Mr Maphosa and other community members are mobilising to save the family, which is presently homeless.
“Our plan is to raise the money within the shortest possible time so that we pay back Mr Golden,” he said. “Indications are that if we raise the money, he will give them back the house. But for now, they are locked outside and have nowhere to go.”
Mr Maphosa said they would continue engaging the lender so that the family can get back into the property.
A distraught Mr Amani said he had learnt his lessons and that he regretted falling for the online scam.
He said he felt something was not right when the scammers blocked his numbers when he requested a refund.
“One afternoon, my son came to me so excited, indicating his mobile number had won an online competition and that he would get a prize of £1 million from England,” said Mr Amani.
“The catch was that we were supposed to send US$2 000 via Western Union so that the money was processed and deposited to our account. I felt the gods had answered my prayers of owning a bigger house for my family, and went on to borrow the US$2 000 from a resident, Mr Golden.”
Mr Amani said he intended to pay back the US$2 000 with some interest within a week.
But the plan failed to materialise after it turned out that he had been scammed.
Mr Amani said he was grateful to the Beitbridge community, which is now mobilising money to help him repay his debt.
He said it was important for community members to be vigilant when buying or responding to online messages to avoid getting into a similar predicament.
His wife, Meresina (65), said she was devastated and wished the nightmare could go away as soon as possible.
“We had looked forward to owning a better house and now we are homeless because of this scam,” she said. “We have lost the two-roomed house we had known as our home for most of our adult life. As a family, we are grateful for the help we have been getting from everyone.”
A para-legal consultant, Mr Alaska Mafuka from the Legal Resources Foundation, said people should learn from Mr Amani’s situation on how to handle legal matters.
He said he had assisted the family in seeking legal recourse in the matter.
People should avoid entering into legal agreements without the assistance of someone who is conversant with the law, he said.
“I have had consultations with the couple and advised them to make use of the right legal channels to resolve their matter,” he said. “This matter must be resolved amicably and it’s unfortunate they used their house as collateral in this debt, which unfortunately they failed to pay resulting in them being evicted.
“The effort by the community members is welcome and I want to emphasise that due diligence must be taken to avoid future complications.”
According to Mr Golden’s lawyer, Mr Foster Abheki, the Amani family sold their house to Collen Golden Junior, who was represented by his Father Collen Senior, on August 28, 2019, for US$4 000.
A part payment of US$2 000 was made to him on the same day and another payment was made on September 3, 2019. The sale was to allow the Amanis to leave the house on September 28 of the same year.
“We then took him to court and the case has been dragging on until we got a judgement to evict him on August 17, 2023,” he said. “They resisted and we had to evict them.”
Mr Abheki said through his lawyers, Mr Amani had also filed an application for review at the High Court under case number 5438/23.
“We are aware of the community initiatives to raise money on behalf of Mr Amani. However, currently we are seized with responding to the legal application made by his lawyers,” said Mr Abheki.