Teens, families conned out of at least R200 000 paid for accommodation
About 100 matriculants from around the country arrived in Plettenberg Bay at the weekend to discover they had been duped out of hundreds of thousands of rands in a sophisticated accommodation scam.
A search has now been launched for alleged con artist Rick Havemann, 49, with livid Plett ragers, parents and Plett residents determined to track him down.
They claim Havemann, who acted as a rental agent for some of Plett’s popular establishments, booked out some units up to six times for the same period.
A family paid R42 000 to secure accommodation during the Christmas and New Year period.
Plett tourism said by yesterday, 100 matriculants and holidaymakers had already come forward claiming to have been duped by Havemann, who has since gone on the run.
Most complainants have already reported cases of fraud with their local police stations. The total loss is estimated at about R200 000, and is said to be growing steadily.
One by one, as party goers attempted to check into their guesthouses between Friday and yesterday, they were informed their units had already been rented out.
When their attempts to reach Havemann on his phone failed, victims went to the business address listed on his website only to discover it is a coffee shop.
Havemann’s Ethos Property Management website has since been taken down and his cellphone goes straight to voicemail.
St Dominic’s Priory matriculant, Alexi Tsiotsiopoulos, 18, and seven friends lost their R10 000 deposit on what they thought was a self-catering unit at the luxury The River Lodge.
Tsiotsiopoulos said yesterday that he came across Havemann’s details on Gumtree while searching for accommodation for the popular Rage.
“We communicated telephonically and everything seemed legitimate.
“But when my friends and I arrived at The River Lodge on Friday, we were informed our unit was already occupied.” Tsiotsiopoulos said another three groups of matriculants arrived shortly after that, claiming to have booked the same unit.
Most victims – who were then left scurrying for accommodation – said they had contacted Havemann via the Ethos webpage.
Lynn Gorin, of Cape Town, said she had twice fallen victim to Havemann.
She started communicating with him via e-mail in April.
“There was absolutely nothing to indicate this was a scam.
“He sent photographs of the accommodation and even requested we furnish him with our children’s emergency contact details in case something went wrong,” she said.
She was charged R16 500 for her son and his three friends.
On Friday morning, when the youngsters left Cape Town for Plett, she attempted to phone Havemann to give him an estimated time of arrival. His phone was off.
“I started panicking in the afternoon when I was still unable to reach him.”
Gorin then phoned the tourism department, who informed her about a possible scam.
She eventually managed to arrange alternative accommodation at an extra cost of R11 000. But Gorin’s woes did not end there. She said she had lost an additional R42 000 which she had paid for a four bedroom unit for her family for the Christmas holidays.
Plett Tourism official Patty Butterworth said each of the victims had been encouraged to report a case of fraud to the police.
“We are still receiving case numbers and calculating the total loss, but at this stage more than 100 students have already come forward.
“We have calculated the losses at a minimum of R10 000 per student, in addition to the holidaymakers who lost their deposits on accommodation.”
Butterworth said the town had rallied to assist victims who could not afford alternative accommodation.
“Some students came into our offices crying. Some had to work hard all year to raise money to attend Rage, so we could not just leave them in the lurch.”
A few homeowners offered to accommodate stranded students, while local businesses donated money towards their cause.
The Plett Rage organisers put up tents with mattresses to accommodate between 40 and 50 stranded victims.
Plett Rage co-owner Ronen Klugman said this was the first time in the 17 years of the event’s existence that something like this had happened.
Butterworth said she was worried that not everyone had been made aware of the alleged scam and holidaymakers who booked accommodation through Ethos would continue to arrive.
Amber Luck, 18, of East London, and her friends lost a total of R34 500, while Annette Davis, 51, of Cape Town, said she was desperately searching for new accommodation for her family for New Year after she was informed of the alleged scam via Facebook.
Davis, who is originally from Port Elizabeth, said she had paid Havemann a deposit of R19 250 in May.
“What made everything seem so real was that when I inquired about accommodation on certain dates, he told me he was fully booked,” Davis said. Andrew Bell, who has shares in Lo Spuntino coffee shop where Havemann often worked on his laptop, said he was surprised when teenagers began arriving at the establishment asking about Havemann.
Bell said they were angry that Havemann had listed the shop as his Ethos address and had since started a Facebook page, “Scammer-help find this Guy”, to try track him down.
Police spokesman Captain Malcolm Pojie confirmed that the matter had been reported to Plettenberg Bay police and was under investigation.
“Preliminary investigations indicate that the suspect advertised accommodation online and double-booked without the clients noticing.
“When they arrived at the venue, they discovered that they were never booked and the suspect provided his own personal banking details.
“They weren’t aware that they had deposited the required amount directly into the suspect’s private bank account.
“The total amount lost has not yet been determined,” Pojie said.
He said that while the suspect was known to police, he had not yet been arrested.
“The investigation is ongoing and we believe more victims will come forward.”