If you remember, I told you our neighbor had warned us about having foreign bank correspondence sent to our PO box, and I did indeed make a half-hearted mental note to perhaps change that, but what with other pressing to-dos and the Christmas season approaching it didn’t get much attention. As luck would have it, I had recently been issued a new bank card by our German bank. The pin arrived, but not the card, and I had made another mental note to check why the card hadn’t gotten here yet. I’m glad our bank was more vigilant than I was – today I received a call to check if a recent request for a substantial money transfer from our account to a South African bank was legitimate. Of course it wasn’t, and so it was stopped, as was the card, which undoubtedly was stolen somewhere along the way before it reached our PO box. The scary part is that not only was our bank account number diverted, but somehow this thief also discovered and copied Noisette’s signature, we have no idea how (did he find out his office address and bribe someone to produce the signature? Or did he find out our home address and went through our garbage? Another mental note: must make a habit of using the shredder again, our old one of course not working due to the whole voltage issue). The accompanying letter was written in very bad German (I’m thinking Google Translator, very similar in style to the Nigerian get-rich-quick emails you’ve undoubtedly received before), which by itself would have sent a red flag to any bank employee. Nevertheless, all of a sudden the warning of our account being depleted within months doesn’t sound outlandish at all!
Just a humble suggestion to the South African Postal Service: Aspiring to be number 10 in the world does not sound all that ambitious, but you will never be even close to that if you cannot control rampant theft in your system!
So my little experiment of sending mail to the U.S. went well, the package was delivered, and quickly at that. However, no such success the other way.
Therefore, to all aspiring or existing South African expats: Do NOT handle any financial transactions through your local postal address. Have your mail go to a friend’s or colleague’s address in your home country, and let them tell you if anything of import arrives, which they can then forward you via courier. You might also alert your bank to never accept any money orders without receiving your explicit o.k., which any respectable bank should already be doing when dealing with South Africa.
As for our fraud case, I was told to not even bother with the police, who will most likely laugh at you. I did forward the fraudulent letter to the bank that was used by the would-be thief, but I’m not holding my breath, as they have probably covered their tracks well.
Stealing, unfortunately, is not just limited to the postal service but to all areas of South African society. When you go shopping, you will soon learn to keep your receipt out when exiting any kind of store, even if you’ve only bought a package of mints, as there will be a security guard cross-checking the contents of your bag against the receipt. And when you take your car in to be serviced, you will be warned to take out all valuables, and you better do, because otherwise they will indeed be gone. I keep a few coins for the parking attendants in my glove compartment, nothing much at all, and still found that they were gone after my last car service. I’ve heard reports of entire CD collections to go missing. Noisette is dealing with theft on a staggering scale in his factories, from valuable raw materials to rolls of toilet paper. I’ve also heard reports of stolen purses, so it is wise to keep a close eye on yours when shopping or in a restaurant.
So we’ve at last discovered the uglier side of life in South Africa. But, as everybody will tell you here, be vigilant and sensible, and it won’t be half as bad. If you’ve ever lived in Europe, you’d never even dream of leaving your purse in your car, or leaving your keys in the ignition, even if you’ve parked in the garage, yet in the U.S. we’ve grown so accustomed to do these very things, because there is practically no theft (in most places). So it’s basically a matter of adjusting to your circumstances and taking the necessary precautions.