Watch out for helicopter trips to nowhere

Hundreds of people all over the country have lost large amounts of money to a scammer who is currently hard at work in the Hartbeespoort area, promising people helicopter trips to the Kruger National Park.

The person, who calls himself Martin Botha, has been advertising widely on social media, promising clients luxury overnight trips from Kosmos in Hartbeespoort to Skukuza in the Kruger National Park. But as soon as the unsuspecting client has paid, any contact with Botha ceases and the client is blocked from contacting him on his cell phone number and all his social media accounts.

Operating under business names such as Scenic Tours, Fly Well Adventures and Cape Town Helicopter (or Heli) Tours, to name but a few, Botha uses images of aircraft belonging to reputable charter companies all over South Africa, and photos of pilots from an American flight training school. The address for the company is given as Rand Airport.

His modus operandi is to tell people to book via one of the websites. Payment can only be made with a banking application’s cash transfer or cardless cash withdrawal function. He promises to send an invoice and booking confirmation once payment is received. After paying, clients are unable to contact him.

Kormorant has spoken to several people who fell victim to the scam. “I saw the advertisement on Instagram for a Valentines day tour from Virginia Airport to Hluhluwe Game Reserve with a picnic included for R500 per person. I contacted him and even joked about wondering if it is legit as it seemed so cheap. He assured me via voice note that it was. Well, I paid R1 000, and then nothing! I was blocked and could no longer contact him on his cell phone or via his Instagram account or other social media platforms. I could not open a fraud case with the bank as I did a cash withdrawal payment,” said Nafisa Chetty.

Lettie du Plessis had a similar experience. “We saw an Instagram paid advertisement for a Valentine tour from Hartbeespoort to Kruger National Park. I tried phoning him but he didn’t pick up and shortly afterwards he contacted me on WhatsApp. One could not phone him. We had several WhatsApp conversations and he took us through the steps to book on his website and pay R4 000 for the trip. After we had booked, I asked him where in Hartbeespoort we were supposed to meet and then he just disappeared. We could not reach him again. I was also not able to comment on his social media advertisements. I have tried to spread the scam as wide as possible on Facebook and other platforms to warn people. However, he is still advertising under various ‘company names’,” she said.

Rand Airport confirmed that no such company is based at the airport and that the hanger number does not exist. Kormorant also traced some of the legitimate charter companies that own the aircraft featured on his website and were told that they had been receiving complaints about the scam.

Victims have exposed his scams widely on Facebook and Instagram, but Botha continues to advertise and people keep falling for this scam.

Kormorant contacted him, pretending to be an interested client wanting to book a trip. We were told the helicopter takes off from Kosmos Ridge and we were sent photos of a helicopter belonging to a flight charter company in the Cape. We were told to book via the website. Halfway through the conversation, the web page changed and the former one was no longer available. We were sent a new link. Botha said he only accepts payment via the banks’ cash send feature. When we told him we do not use a banking application and would like to do an electronic transfer, we were told the price was more. When we ‘accepted’ the higher price, a barrage of insults followed: “It’s fine’ look at you. And you think I’ll fall for that rubbish? Why do you waste your own time? Pretending like you’re here to book? Why? You’re lame man. I know you’re not here for anything. But to just act. Go to the film academy and act there…”. He then blocked our number.

Kormorant then officially contacted him about the allegations and facts we have gathered and asked for his comment. “I think you’ve got the wrong people. My company deals with no scams.” He then blocked the number.

People are urged to thoroughly investigate unknown companies before doing business with them. And be extra careful if you are asked for cash payments!