Categories: South Africa

Cell phones in prison used for scams | #daitngscams | #lovescams

Prisoners with cell phones play an ever-increasing role in the underworld of scams and the relentless exploitation of innocent public.

Prisoners orchestrate elaborate schemes from inside their cells with a cell phone, warns an expert, with the Department of Correctional Services turning to technology to try detect and address the scourge.

Mike Bolhuis from Specialised Security Services told The Citizen prisoners with cell phones play an ever-increasing role in the underworld of scams and exploitation. These scams can range from advance-fee fraud to online romance scams and extortion.

“South African prisoners are running scams with cell phones and broadcasting TikTok live events from behind bars. This alarming issue raises numerous questions about how inmates obtain these devices.”

He added that corruption among prison guards and officials plays a pivotal role in the cell phone epidemic in the prison system.

“It is a well-documented fact that some prison staff facilitate the smuggling of cell phones to inmates in exchange for bribes. Lack of stringent security measures: the effectiveness of security measures in prisons has come under scrutiny. Smuggling of cell phones into prisons often occurs owing to lax search protocols and inadequate surveillance systems,” said Bolhuis.

ALSO READ: Love, selfies and cellphones behind bars: Jail cell has new meaning

Modernising Correctional Services systems

Correctional Services (DCS) spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo told The Citizen the department was aware of the issues and had put in place technology and manpower in response.

“Living in the 21st century compels us to modernise our systems and take full advantage of Information Communication Technology. Some of our facilities have cell phone detection technology. And we are working with other institutions looking at other technologies available in the market for such.”

Nxumalo said the department’s Back-to-Basics programme had brought increased visibility, tightening of security measures, and increased supervision of officials. 

“Conducting searches assists, as it removes illegal objects. We can run incident-free centres when contrabands are removed.”

He said cell phones, cell phone accessories, sharpened objects, cash, drugs (Mandrax, Tik, Heroine, Whoonga , Nyaope Bompies) were among the items searched for.

Undone by the corrupt

But Bolhuis said all measure to curb criminality in jail was undone if inmates were able to access cellphones.

ALSO READ: Insurance killer Rosemary Ndlovu caught with cellphone behind bars

“In one such case, a prisoner currently serving a term for fraud managed to con a victim out of over R300,000 by posing as a visa company that arranges visas for people.”

“Our SSS specialist investigator team … discovered that the scammer was in jail. This is one example of how incarcerated criminals leverage social media platforms like Facebook to bait victims into their scams. It is crucial for people to be aware of such schemes and to stay vigilant to avoid falling prey to these criminals,” he added.

ALSO READ: Nothing wrong with Thabo Bester having personal laptop in prison, says G4S

He said the issue “erodes public trust in the South African justice system” and called for the strengthening of security protocols in prisons. This includes implementing stricter search procedures, investing in modern surveillance technology, and addressing corruption among prison staff.

“The installation of cell phone jamming technology in prisons can significantly reduce the ability of inmates to use these devices. The legal and regulatory challenges surrounding the use of jamming technology need to be addressed.”

ALSO READ: Correctional Services warns content creators not to dress in replica prison uniforms

“Empowering inmates with skills and education during their incarceration can reduce the demand for cell phones to run scams and engage in live events. Programmes that focus on rehabilitation and reduce recidivism are vital. It is crucial to hold prison officials accountable for their role in facilitating the cell phone problem. Transparent investigations and stricter consequences for corruption are necessary.”

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