Saturday, October 23, 2021

Don’t be scammed by plainclothes ‘officers’ at construction sites

At least to our knowledge and that of police sources, this is a new scam and it targets Zimbabweans working at construction sites in Gaborone and surrounding areas.

Men in plainclothes show up at a site, introduce themselves as police officers and ask the Zimbabwean workmen to produce papers ÔÇô it could be passports or residence and work permits. In the event they can’t, the plainclothes officers tell the aliens to either accompany them to the police station or pay a bribe in the P600 ballpark.

In a situation where people who don’t hold proper documents have been engaged to do construction work, two parties are at fault: the workmen themselves and the person who employed them. Sunday Standard learns that in some instances (especially when the workmen don’t have money to pay the bribe), the employers have been telephonically appraised of the situation and asked to cough up the bribe. Only much later would the targets (Sunday Standard knows of three) realise that they have been scammed.

While they may not be recognised as such, scammers are great if unacknowledged psychologists. This particular scam uses authority and personalised information as psychological triggers. Authority causes automatic response in almost everyone and announcing oneself as a police officer assures a scammer of compliance on the part of a target ÔÇô especially if the target has broken the law. In the case of personalised scams, the scammer gathers personal information about a target and uses it against the latter. What seems to be happening in this particular case is that the scammers prowl neighbourhoods to identify construction sites where work is being done by Zimbabweans and gamble on the possibility that they don’t have proper documents. A related factor that the scammers bank on is that the guilty parties will have a lot going through their mind to think properly and be assertive. The latter can take the form of asking the plainclothes officers to produce their badges. However, being too assertive with an authority figure when you have broken the law can be counterproductive and so the targets don’t want to offend in the hope that such action will be reciprocated.

Even on realising that they have been scammed, targets are unable to seek redress for the simple reason that they themselves would have broken the law. In this particular case, someone would have hired a worker without a work permit (or passport in some cases) and would also have bribed his/her way out of what he thought was genuine legal trouble. The good news though is that protecting yourself against these scammers is easy. Ask for identification because in normal policing situations, police are required to show their badges before they can lawfully enforce the law.

The government is itself not blameless in the current labour market situation that has bred this kind of scam. In South Africa, where there are many more Zimbabweans than in Botswana, the government has made it easier to hire Zimbabwean labour through the Zimbabwean Special Dispensation Programme which was preceded by the Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project. No such special dispensation exists in Botswana and there has emerged fraud that the government itself facilitates. Those who want to hire (or have already hired) Zimbabwean maids and herdboys place advertisments in newspapers for “Motswana herdboy/herdgirl” with the full knowledge that the qualifying candidates either don’t read newspapers or won’t apply. Having drawn a blank with citizens, the prospective employer can then legally hire a Zimbabwean maid or herdboy whom s/he can get a work permit for. The Motswana herd boy/girl adverts have become fraud with official character because everybody ÔÇô not least officials of the Department of Labour and Social Security, knows exactly what is happening.

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