Forest Road Detective Agency

THE rule of thumb when trying to thwart a wallet thief is to cancel your card with a quickness.

Tell me why then, dear reader, I’m waiting until 15 minutes before and after midnight to try my hand at being a sleuth after being relieved of my valuables at an adventure travel attraction in the Eastern Cape.

As I try to occupy the mind of a criminal, I figure they’ll want to siphon cash out of my account as quickly and efficiently as possible. Once just before midnight and again shortly after to capitalise on the daily limits in the shortest amount of time.

So I wait. I set my phone to ‘Sound’ and I anticipate the beep of a bank transaction that will let me know exactly where this person is making it rain with my money.

Midnight comes and goes without incident. And I start thinking perhaps nobody stole my wallet at all.

The forest that a group of travel writers, influencers and I wind our way through before hurling ourselves off a bridge suspended above certain death with naught but a bungee cord is dense. So maybe I dropped it on the forest road and someone will have picked it up and handed it in at the reception area by morning.

It’s 08h32 the following day when I hear the sound I’ve been dreading. The telltale peep of a text message chimes cheerfully as I anxiously sip my morning coffee at an upscale estate before peering at the new message to assess the damage.

“FNB:-) N¤110.00 reserved for purchase ¡ Ccn*Kaiser Shop 4 from cheq a/c..686721 using card..367. Avail N¤. 16May 08:32.”

The text from my banking service would be routine enough if it was just a delayed notification from a previous purchase. Instead, a young woman walks into her neighbourhood grocery store, selects something cheap like gum or sweets then holds out my bank card, inquiring boldly:

“Can I have R100 Cashback?”

The notification hits my phone like a bomb. I leap out of my breakfast room chair and race to my host, Mandisa, yelling excitedly.

“I’ve got them! They’re using it right now! Where is this place?”

Google tells us that shop in question is in a township in the area and Mandisa quickly gets on the phone to help alert them to the fraud and secure the CCTV footage. Me? I finally do what I was supposed to do and cancel my card after risking it all to get the thief’s location.

I don’t suggest you try this at home, but I was desperate.

In my wallet’s zipped middle pouch, alongside R550 and a silver brooch, is a memory card with all my photography for an upcoming exhibition in Berlin.

The stakes are high so I risk some money and the bold gamble sends an impromptu and amateur detective agency ping-ponging around a little town in the Eastern Cape.

Mandisa and company secure the footage from the shop. I identify my floral print wallet which the thief is still brazenly carrying around and someone recognises the thief’s friend in the footage.

Because Jesus loves and cherishes me, the crook’s companion actually works 20 feet from where we’re standing. A motley crew of my tour operators and a representative from the travel adventure place burst in and start questioning the thief’s associate.

The associate pleads ignorance but offers some advice as to the thief’s possible location. The investigative team, which I start calling the Forest Road Detective Agency, avoid calling the police because it’s a sure way to get everyone to clam up and will encourage the thief to ditch the wallet which I need.

So they move in the shadows. They kindly go from door to door, quietly inquiring as to the thief’s whereabouts until they finally get to a powder blue house in a township a number of kilometres from where my wallet went missing.

As they pull up, the woman is already standing in the doorway with the wallet in her outstretched hand. She’s been expecting them, perhaps alerted by her friend.

The Forest Road Detective Agency team who eventually return my belongings say the woman shows no remorse, offers no apology and simply says she got the wallet from her mother who told her to see if the card has any money on it.

Her mother is the women’s restroom cleaner at the adventure travel spot who I tearfully asked if she’d seen or picked up my wallet as I frantically retraced my steps.

I unknowingly dropped it while changing in a toilet stall and the woman’s mother picked it up, snuck it out, lied about it and enlisted her daughter to go on a spree.

What she didn’t count on was a determined writer, an instant bank notification and the Forest Road Detective Agency.

–; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram;

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