They pose as Volkswagen salesmen, take orders on Facebook and Whatsapp, then rob genuine VW employees of their company vehicles in a countrywide car-hijacking operation. More than 100 cases, most involving alleged VW employee imposters, have been under investigation since the beginning of last year.
Police believe they have cracked the syndicate with the arrest of one man in Port Elizabeth and, at the weekend, of two others they traced to Gauteng’s East Rand. A VW polo TSI, valued at about R230 000, was recovered during the weekend raid and more vehicles are expected to be confiscated as the investigation continues.
Police spokesman Warrant Officer Basil Seekoei confirmed the syndicate was targeting VW cars and particularly VW employees who drive company vehicles “These men are part of a larger group who pose as VW employees in Gauteng. They advertise on Facebook and WhatsApp that they are able to get cars for a great price directly off the factory line at VW and also have access to demo models with low kilometres,” he said.
“Once the potential buyer contacts the advertisers and places an order, the men state that they will put in the order with VW. In fact the order is placed with hijackers, who go out and trail the VW employees before either hijacking them or stealing their vehicle. “Those in the syndicate even have fraudulent VW identification cards and employee records,” Seekoei said.
The stolen VW Golf 7 that led to the first arrest had been hijacked from a VW employee reversing out of his home in Uitenhage, near Port Elizabeth, one morning. Uitenhage is home to a major VW factory. Police intercepted the vehicle on the R75, near Kirkwood. When arrested, the driver said he was going to Port Elizabeth after arranging to buy the car for R90000.
The three suspects appeared in the Uitenhage Magistrate’s Court yesterday. The police have asked that their names not be released until a formal identity parade is held. Detectives of the Port Elizabeth police’s vehicle hijacking task team – who spent five days in Gauteng last week – said cars were stolen on order and to be sold in other provinces.
“This is a sophisticated syndicate with many links in the chain that they use to sell and hijack the cars. We are aware that there are marketers who are getting orders and then hijackers who get the cars,” one of the investigators, Warrant Officer Zoyisile Siko, said “This team also forges vehicle registration and licence disc documents before the sale of the car. In the unknowing buyer’s eyes, the vehicle is legit, with documentation to support it.
“It is simple, if you are looking for a good deal on a car and it is a specific make and model, these syndicates will search the entire country looking for it. “A lot of the sales are based on timelines. If it is an urgent sale and the car is needed as soon as possible, it would be hijacked. But if there is time to fill the order, the car would be stolen,” Siko said. “VW employees are top of the list [of targets] as they drive the latest vehicles with low kilometres on them.” Seekoei said more arrests were expected.
Volkswagen SA spokesman Matt Gennrich said the hijacking of staff was a “concern”. “I do, however, need to put this in context. Volkswagen has a company fleet of more than 3700 vehicles, with the majority here in the Nelson Mandela Metro. Fewer than 50 of these cars have been hijacked in the last six months, which equates to just over 1%. More than 50% of the cars hijacked are in fact recovered,” he said.