‘TV, worth R30k, going for R6k!’ Looters tracked as they try to ...

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‘TV, worth R30k, going for R6k!’ Looters tracked as they try to flog goods

Ordinary South Africans have turned into sleuths, tracking down looted items as they are put up for sale online

Senior reporter
This couch, which is priced from R67,999, was the subject of a meme when it was photographed at an informal settlement hours after being stolen from the Springfield Value Centre.
EXPENSIVE TASTE This couch, which is priced from R67,999, was the subject of a meme when it was photographed at an informal settlement hours after being stolen from the Springfield Value Centre.
Image: via www.leathergallery.co.za

While a R67,000 blue sofa looted from the Leather Gallery has pride of place in an informal settlement in Durban, the exclusive store has had other items of its looted furniture being sold on Facebook.

Hours after a wave of unrest swept through Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal — when warehouses and shops were stripped bare — looters began selling stolen items on the social media platform.

But a group of about 3,300 South Africans have become online detectives, making it their mission to stop the sale of looted goods on electronic platforms.   

Ryan Venter of Durban started the “Don’t buy looted goods” group by asking sellers of “bargain” electronic goods whether they had receipts for the goods posted online.

“I started the group when things started to get very bad on that first Monday night. I was too worried to go to sleep in case things in the surrounding area got worse. While watching the news, well into the morning hours and having a feeling of helplessness, I thought: ‘What are all these people going to do with all these looted goods?’

“I then thought there is so much stuff, they will never need everything . That’s when I realised they would try to sell the goods as quickly as possible, to not get caught with the stolen items later.”

Couch costs

R3,500: The selling price of a stolen Leather Gallery lounge suite on Facebook.

R17,999: It’s retail price.

Venter and members of the group searched Facebook’s Marketplace for items that were “suspect”.

“By suspect I mean a real bargain. We would ask them for a receipt. If they didn’t have one, we then put them on the group for everyone to see. There were so many ads that, after they got some attention, either delisted or listed the ad under ‘sold’. But my team and I had already taken pictures of these ads and this week have sent them to a task-force at Hillcrest police station.

“There have been a handful of ads that were legit but also got negative attention. I personally apologised to the sellers and then removed them from the group posts,” he said.

Suspicious adverts included two brand-new 70-inch LG flat-screen TVs being sold for R6,000. Each TV usually retails for R30,000.

The group also receives tip-offs.

“It started out as just the looting ads. Then we started to get quite a few tip-offs. In one instance we helped a big supermarket recover two trucks and a forklift. In another, we got police out to a well-known block of flats in Pinetown to recover looted goods,” Venter said.

Leather Gallery owner Greg Parry said he was inundated with reports on the possible whereabouts of some of the sofas that were looted from his Springfield showroom.

“In addition to receiving numerous tip-offs, we have also seen various advertisements on social media of looters trying to sell our products,” he said.

A Facebook spokesperson told Sunday Times Daily the sale of stolen goods was strictly prohibited, and its commerce policies made it clear that sellers must comply with all applicable laws and regulations. 

“We use a combination of technology, human review and user reports to find and remove violating content and we encourage people to report suspicious content when they see it. We also recommend that users contact local law enforcement if they see an item on the marketplace they believe is stolen.”

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