By Jan Vermeulen for MyBroadband
A growing number of South Africans are falling victim to online shops that pop up overnight, rake in thousands of rands by offering great deals, and then disappear with the money.
The South African Banking and Risk Information Centre issued a warning ahead of the Black Friday and festive shopping seasons last year, warning South Africans to only shop at reputable online stores.
“Be wary of unfamiliar e-commerce sites, especially if they do not redirect you to confirm your transaction via your bank’s 3D secure page or via your own bank’s mobile app before you pay,” it said.
One such online retailer that appears to have run off with at least R340 000 of people’s money is MrShopper.co.za, Carte Blanche reported on Sunday. MyBroadband assisted with the investigation.
Clients ordered everything from pool cleaner to PlayStation consoles through Mr Shopper, only to be met with delays, excuses, and ultimately silence.
At the time of publication, review aggregator Hello Peter had 1,376 posts about Mr Shopper on its platform, most of them negative and describing that customers did not get the goods they ordered.
Based on the timestamps of the reviews on Hello Peter, Mr Shopper was in business from as early as August 2020 and did initially deliver items that were ordered through its website, albeit extremely slowly.
Early reviewers complained about constant delivery delays and lack of communication from Mr Shopper, but several reported that they did eventually receive their orders. Some complained that their items arrived damaged.
In the lead-up to Black Friday (27 November 2020) the complaints about Mr Shopper started changing — more customers reported that they have not received their orders and that they were struggling to get any feedback.
As of May 2021, 75% of HelloPeter reviews are 1-star reviews, the bulk of which are complaints about orders not being delivered and refunds not being processed as promised.
Mr Shopper responded to some of the reviews on Hello Peter in which customers accuse it of being a scam. In these responses it usually apologised for the inconvenience and stated that it had processed a refund.
However, most of the complaints on Hello Peter do not feature a response from the online store.
MyBroadband has seen a list of complainants which shows that at least 59 people have reported not receiving their orders from Mr Shopper with a combined value of R341,632.45.
Screenshot of Google Street View of Mr Shopper’s listed address — 98 Richards Drive, Halfway House
Google Street View of Mr Shopper’s listed address — 98 Richards Drive, Halfway House
Carte Blanche and MyBroadband were not the only news outlets to investigate complaints about Mr Shopper. The Devi Show also aired a report about its investigation into the online retailer this past week.
In an interview with one of the neighbouring businesses at Mr Shopper’s published address, the Devi Show reported that the online retailer first occupied its offices at 98 Richards Drive in Midrand during September or October 2020.
“They disappeared in February,” neighbour Dave Lourens told the Devi Show.
According to Lourens, Mr Shopper never used its premises to hold stock and clients who arrived at the address to try and collect their orders were told to wait for their items to be delivered by courier.
The Devi Show also reported that the FNB account used by Mr Shopper was closed, but not before R10 million had flowed through it.
Carte Blanche was able to trace the registration of the Mr Shopper website to a woman called Anelissa Ncamisa.
Initially Ncamisa admitted to Carte Blanche that she was involved with Mr Shopper along with four other people, but in a subsequent interview she denied owning or being involved with the online retailer.
She claimed that her name being linked to Mr Shopper was a case of identity theft.
Screenshot of a complaint about Mr Shopper on Hello Peter
Complaint about Mr Shopper on Hello Peter
MyBroadband contacted the various email addresses and phone numbers linked to Mr Shopper, including one listed in an Android app that has since been pulled from the Google Play store.
Ncamisa did not respond to our requests for comment. However, we did receive call back from a man who identified himself as Brian Mawela.
The name “Brian” appears in several of the reviews on Hello Peter. One review mentions him by his full name.
Mawela called MyBroadband in response to a set of questions sent via WhatsApp to a mobile phone number that was listed as belonging to Anelissa Ncamisa.
“I was working for that company [Mr Shopper],” Mawela told MyBroadband. “I actually had a perspective towards the whole thing and I don’t believe that it was actually… I wouldn’t say it was scam.”
Asked why he was calling from a cellphone number listed as belonging to Ncamisa, Mawela said that he doesn’t know who she is and that he received the number from the company.
Asked who owned the company if not Ncamisa, Mawela said that there was a board of directors.
Mawela’s claim that Mr Shopper had a board of directors is curious, as there is no record of the company — let alone a board of directors — in the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission database.
According to Mawela, he worked at Mr Shopper as a sales executive and had been at the company since around the end of 2019. Mawela indicated that he had not been at the company since the beginning, as it had launched in 2017.
This was also a curious statement from Mawela, as the earliest record of the existence of Mr Shopper’s online portal is February 2020. The company’s social media accounts were also only created in 2020.
Disregarding these inconsistencies for the moment, Mawela said that Mr Shopper came under a lot of pressure after a website crash on Black Friday 2020. The company failed to contain this pressure, causing a substantial backlog that landed it in a “huge predicament”.
Mawela said that Mr Shopper was slowly clearing its backlog and dealing with customer complaints on Hello Peter, but then Afrihost blocked its domain and cut the company off from important client information.
“We ended up not having access to information — who was refunded, who was owed [what],” stated Mawela.
“At that point it really started to go bad.”
Mawela said that a single customer complaint to its web hosting provider, Afrihost, caused Mr Shopper to be taken down.
After the complaint was resolved and the customer refunded, Afrihost did not reinstate Mr Shopper’s domain, Mawela stated.
The customer who lodged the complaint with Afrihost disputed this version of events, saying that they were never refunded.
MyBroadband contacted Afrihost to find out why the Mr Shopper website was taken down, and the hosting provider said it was suspended for non-payment.
This presents another curious contradiction — considering that Mr Shopper’s website was essential for the company’s survival, why not simply pay its hosting bill?
Mawela said that he would forward our questions “up the chain” to the Mr Shopper board of directors, but we never received any further feedback from the company.