The Sunday Times last week linked Woza 2010 and its billionaire owner, Julian Pencilliah, to a rogue debit order scandal that's led to the plundering of thousands of bank accounts.

The Payments Association of South Africa has launched a formal compliance review with Stratcol, the service provider responsible for processing the company's debits.

The review will include Woza's sponsoring bank, Absa, which has launched an internal investigation.

Stratcol will have to provide proof of consumer consent for all of Woza 2010's debits as well as for other users recently flagged by the payments body.

Umhlanga-based Pencilliah, 42, whose two dormant websites went live again this week, has blamed the unauthorised debits on criminals who infiltrated his call centre in 2010. The call centre sold an educational product, Educorp, before being shut down in 2012.

The police case was closed in 2011, with no fraud detected.

Pencilliah, whose Quantum Capital Fund claims to have launched a $200-million tech fund in the US two years ago, is described as an engineer, entrepreneur, venture capitalist and quantitative trader. Promotion of his self-help book, The Jetstream of Success , marketed through his company The Jetstream, reveals that he owns a Formula 1 car, a Ferrari and a Lamborghini.

Last week Pencilliah secured an urgent order, with costs, against Hendrik de Villiers, who had dared to protest against Woza 2010's illegal debits on complaints website Hellopeter.

The former internal auditor had suggested an investigation be launched into the company, under the trading name LLC Collections.

In a high court battle almost identical to De Villiers's case, Gordon's Bay businesswoman Riana Swiegers was sued for defamation last June, by the same attorneys, after she posted a similar complaint as part of her own probe into the company. She'd been debited four times over two years by Woza 2010, in this instance trading as World Trade Consortium (WTC).

Swiegers opposed the urgent interdict in the High Court in Cape Town and the matter was eventually settled out of court. When approached this week, Swiegers declined to comment.

As in De Villiers's case, the founding affidavit against Swiegers was written by Pencilliah's associate and CEO of WTC, ex-Standard Bank investment banker Abhir Dayaram. According to court papers, WTC's business comprised "various learnership programs on share and forex trading" sold from its Durban call centre.

Dayaram accused Swiegers of having decided, with no basis, that the company was involved in "extensive illegal conduct and any person associated with the applicant is a 'crook'." He said Swiegers was acting on a "misconceived vendetta".

Papers referred again to the company falling prey to a "sophisticated syndicated fraud" in 2010, involving sales agents who illegally processed R98 debits on bank accounts.

The 2013 case quotes the same police case number as in the De Villiers application. However, the 2013 court papers refer to 700 suspects, whereas the fraud in the LLC Collections matter mentions just nine.

Swiegers challenged the company after two unauthorised debits on her FNB account by WTC in 2010 - which were refunded - were followed by two more two years later.

WTC told Swiegers that the second illegal debits stemmed from a "recent backup and recovery of its IT system" that led to her bank details being reloaded onto the system "in error". A threat of legal action, should she implicate the company in fraud, followed.

Court papers record Swiegers as rejecting the explanation as vague, failing to address the real issue and not conveying any assurance or trust. She accused WTC of being part of a bigger and "very dubious organisation", which was defrauding consumers out of millions on a monthly basis. She threatened to seek legal representation or go to the media, citing a potential class action lawsuit.

A few months later, she added her comments to at least 29 complaints about WTC on Hellopeter. She said she believed "these unscrupulous crooks" operated on a very large scale to scam people out of their money. She referred to having done "a lot of research" and having the names of those involved.

Swiegers, court papers reveal, told the company that she had recordings of calls and e-mails from a member/affiliate of WTC in which "very clear" statements were made that backed up her claims of "very extensive illegal conduct and business practice" of WTC and its debit-processing provider, Stratcol.

WTC launched an urgent high court interdict and the matter was referred for hearing to August. In the interim, Swiegers gave the court an undertaking to remove the online posts and not publish any further information on WTC.

After Swiegers inadvertently left one offending comment on Hellopeter, and added a new comment asking consumers to contact her if they had experienced illegal debits, WTC lodged a contempt of court application against her. It brought another legal action asking for her arrest.

In her opposing affidavit filed in July, she said that based on her experience with dealing with WTC and based on the allegations made by many other s on Hellopeter, as well as comments attributed to BMW South Africa, it was apparent that WTC was involved in "extensive illegal conduct in relation to debit orders passed against accounts of individuals without having due authority to do so".

She said her remarks about the illegal debits were not defamatory "as it is the truth and it is in the public interest that it should be made known".

Her affidavit contains e-mails between her and a company insider who refuted the IT backup error explanation for the repeat debits, saying backups were done daily to an external hard drive and taken away.

"The explanation as to why my account was again debited in December is nothing but a lie," Swiegers said in papers.

She told the court that the police had told her attorney there were "no suspects" in the 2010 fraud case opened by Dayaram.

Included in the papers are details of an alleged scam by WTC to sell BMW shares. Documents quote BMW South Africa as having warned the public about the scam, which targeted previously disadvantaged groups.

How to dispute dodgy payments at your bank

If the beneficiary party is known, first try to resolve the matter directly.

If the beneficiary party is not known, or is unco-operative, contact your bank and dispute the matter with it.

If the dispute is within 40 days of statement, the amount will be reversed immediately.

If the dispute is after 40 days of statement, the beneficiary has up to 30 days to produce evidence of a mandate; if there is no such proof, the account will be refunded.

If an illegal debit order is repeatedly submitted, account holders can register a stop payment with their bank.

For clarification on payment clearing rules or help when banks do not cooperate, e-mail the Payments Association of SA at pasa@pasa.org.za.

To register a dispute with a bank regarding any matter, e-mail the Banking Ombudsman at info@obssa.co.za

If you believe you're a victim of fraud, report the matter to the police.

What it will cost you:

ABSA:

Debit order reversal within 40 days: R26

Debit order reversal after 40 days: R26

Stop payment: R30

Standard Bank:

Debit order reversal within 40 days: Free

Debit order reversal after 40 days: R180

Stop payment: R42

FNB:

Debit order reversal within 40 days: Free

Debit order reversal after 40 days: Free

Stop payment: R5 (reversed if found to be unauthorised debit)

Nedbank:

Debit order reversal within 40 days: Free

Debit order reversal after 40 days: Free

Stop payment: R20 or R40 depending on account type.

Capitec:

Debit order reversal within 40 days: R20

Debit order reversal after 40 days: R25

Stop payment: R20

Tune in to PowerFM 98.7's Power Breakfast tomorrow to hear more from Megan

 

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