Nicolette Dirk, finance writer, Justmoney.co.za
More people are buying goods and services online now than ever before. But criminals are using online market places such as Gumtree and Auto Trader to run scams and take advantage of unsuspecting buyers.
Claire Cobbledick, head of marketing at Gumtree South Africa, said that while many scams are easy to spot, some of extremely sophisticated.
Recently the Auto Trader.co.za brand was used by conmen who were selling an Auto Trader ‘Buyer Protection Program’, which doesn’t exist. See how the scam works here:
“Any vehicle related publisher can easily become a target and with AutoTrader.co.za conducting over 14 million monthly searches on over 50 000 vehicles on their sites, syndicates have the biggest choice of potential victims to prey on,” said Angelique Lynch, spokesperson for Auto Trader.
Cobbledick said scammers will go as far as to create fake online profiles and a believable digital footprint to fool unsuspecting victims. But that doesn’t mean that there are no tell-tale signs that you could be scammed.
The company representative scheme
Although there are many reputable dealerships and businesses that use online classifieds to sell their goods and services, you should be aware of how they deal with you.
“For example, if you receive an email from an @gumtree.co.za address offering to sell you goods, particularly vehicles, that should raise an immediate red flag,” said Cobbledick.
According to Cobbledick, Gumtree will only contact you with regards to ads you have posted, tickets you may have raised or a promotion you may have entered. They won’t contact you about goods they have for sale.
“We facilitate sales but we certainly don’t have warehouses of goods for sale. Even if the person sending the email address provides you with a telephone number, you should double-check to see if it matches the ad on the site. When in doubt, contact our customer service department, who are available 24/7 to answer queries”.
There have also been instances where properties were advertised for rent, usually at quite low rates, only for tenants to find out that the property did not belong to the advertiser. Cobbledick said that because demand outstrips supply, desperate consumers will throw caution to the wind when it comes to renting or buying property.
“Never hand over money without signing a lease. If the person advertising the property won’t allow you to see the premises before renting it, chances are it’s a scam.
I’ve heard of landlords claiming that they were ‘travelling overseas’ but that the potential tenant should feel free to walk around the property and take a peek through the windows. That is definitely a warning sign that you are dealing with a scam,” said Cobbledick.
When it’s too good to be true
Although there are numerous bargains to be found, ads that are too good to be true usually are.,
“If the latest iPhone hasn’t been released in the States yet, chances are you won’t find it at a bargain price online,” said Cobbledick.
She added that similarly if high-value items (such as tablets, smart phones, cameras, etc.) are being sold for a fraction of their value, there is a good chance that the product is either broken or being posted fraudulently. The same is true for job postings offering huge salaries to individuals with little or no experience.
Another warning sign is when someone offers goods for sale, but includes several conditions before an item can be released.
“They will request that a deposit is paid, or have numerous reasons why the item can’t be collected in person or via a courier,” said Cobbledick.
She added that although many items with a lower relative value is commonly shipped between the seller and the buyer, you should always request whether or not the item can be viewed before money exchanges hands – even if it’s by a representative. If someone refuses to supply you with items such a certified proof of banking letter or a lease, you should view that with suspicion.
Cheque deposit/false payment scam
Sometimes scammers will pay an amount into a seller’s account via cheque – the amount will reflect as “yet to clear” in their bank account, and when the seller hands over the goods, they simply cancel the transaction.
“Check with your bank to see whether or not you were paid via EFT or cheque. If someone does chose to pay via cheque, do not hand over the goods until it clears. Similarly, some scammers will send hoax payment confirmations via SMS that appears to be from your bank. Always verify payment,” said Cobbledick.
There is a section for every item advertised on Gumtree where you can report a suspicious ad via email. Should you have any queries about a buyer/seller that you think maybe suspicious contact Crime Line by SMS on ‘32211’ or contact the police.