‘Seller beware’ on classifieds websites

[By Nic Callegari]

I have often warned people about free classified websites like Gumtree because they are a breeding ground for scams and fraudsters out to deprive you of your money and your possessions.

I’ve never been successfully scammed on these sites myself, but the number of stories you hear from friends and family who have lost money or stuff to scammers through these sites should be warning enough.

Last week, however, I got first-hand experience of how these scammers work and how believable they can be. I decided that I want to sell my three-month old Samsung Galaxy S II so I decided to post a few ads here and there.

My first port of call was Kalahari Ads, but after four attempts to load an ad just to have it rejected without any form of feedback whatsoever, I decided to post something on Junkmail and Gumtree.

Within minutes of posting free ads on both of these sites, I was receiving e-mails from interested parties, most to the tune of “is the item still available?” and stupid questions like “what is your asking price?”, despite the price being mentioned in all my ads.  I also got three SMSes and a phone call.

“Jeez, this phone is in demand,” I thought to myself.

The first SMS I got was form a guy calling himself “Gareth”. I called him to confirm that the phone was indeed available.  A guy with a non-SA accent answered the phone and I told him the phone was available. He wanted to do a transfer straight away and collect the phone from me immediately. I told him I as not prepared to do this, not until the money cleared into my account. He then said we could meet at Cresta and he’d go to the ATM to draw the cash.

A warning bell immediately rang because he asked how much the phone was and he seemed distracted. He also didn’t sound like a “Gareth”.

I decided to leave it and I’m glad I did because I started doing some research online and it turns out that this is the modus operandi for scammers — insist on immediate delivery and do a fake bank transfer and disappear with your phone.

The second scammer (“Andrew”) said he wanted the phone and would have the cash ready for me when I met him at Eastgate, a shopping centre. He also had a non-SA accent. He SMSed me, e-mailed me and left about four missed calls on my phone before I called him back.

We agreed to meet on Sunday where we could do the deal. He later called me and said he was going down to Durban and he would send the money with his wife and son who would meet me at the time and place I gave him. He said she would mail him the phone. Warning bells again.

I decided to ignore him but he was tenacious and called me twice an hour for about three hours to try and get me to meet his wife. I eventually told him the phone was no longer for sale and he stopped bugging me. He could have been a legitimate buyer, but I didn’t feel good about him either, so I decided to rather avoid the risk altogether.

I’ve also read stories of people who sell cellphones on Junkmail, meet the buyer, let him test it and, while the seller is distracted, the “buyer” quickly exchanges the phone for a dummy model or a different phone altogether and puts it back in the box without the seller seeing.

The buyer then says he’s off to the ATM to draw the money and disappears (with the phone), never to come back, and the seller is left sitting with a dummy phone.

I received a total of about seven e-mail requests and four SMSes about my phone from scammers, including one that offered to pay me an additional R1 800 to ship the phone to her son overseas.

If I weren’t such a sceptic, I would have been scammed quickly. It makes me wonder how many people get scammed every day and — even scarier — how many scammers there actually are out there.

These are some lessons I’ve learned from this exercise:

  • Treat e-mails from Hotmail and Gmail addresses with caution.
  • If you reply to an e-mail or SMS that the item is still available and you are asked for the price (even if your price isn’t mentioned in the advert), treat it as a scam.
  • Never accept a bank transfer or Paypal. Cash only.
  • If someone offers to pay you an insane mount of money on top of your asking price to “ship” the item to a family member overseas, it’s almost certainly a scam.
  • Use common sense. If a guy calls himself “Ryan, Andrew or Gareth” and he’s got a foreign accent, chances are he’s a scammer.
  • If you call a potential buyer and they sound distracted, or if they want to buy your item without seeing it first, it’s a warning sign.
  • A buyer that is too pushy is also a warning sign. Conduct the deal on your terms.
  • If you’re unsure, offer to meet the buyer in a public place. I suggest the reception area of your local police station or inside a bank. Someone with nothing to hide will have no problems meeting you there.
  • The Sim card registration law, Rica, will not protect you. If you get scammed, there’s nothing you can do because these scammers buy pre-Rica’d Sim cards by the bakkie-load and are completely anonymous.

In case you’re wondering, I haven’t sold my phone yet and I’ve ignored any and all requests I received from Junkmail and Gumtree and I’ve deleted my ads on these sites. I’ve also reported suspected scammers to the relevant support teams (but whether anything will get done is beyond me).

  • This column was originally published at callegari.co.za and is republished with permission

Share this article

  • http://twitter.com/richardjwalton Richard John Walton

    Great post, and yes I wonder how many people get scammed everyday? The figures must be massive.
    I think BidorBuy has a feature that allows for a kind of “escrow” where the buyer pays into a BidorBuy account and only once buyer and seller are happy then does the funds get released.
    Another thing, lets be honest free classified ad’s have always been a bit dodgy, especially since the digital age of classified ads! :-)

    Oh BTW Nic I’d like to buy your phone, do you accept post dated cheques? 

  • Anonymous

    i would like to disagree with the foreign accent and name correlation. Lots of foreign guys have English names, so they might actually be telling the truth and possibly be genuine customers. I think common sense prevails.

  • Nicki

    Can I buy your phone please, what’s the price :-)

  • Alec

    Hi
    Nic,

     

    Great
    article, thanks for taking the time to warn folk about the dangers of online
    classifieds. We at Kalahari Ads didn’t post your ad, as you know. You posted an
    ad in a high risk category with limited details and a picture taken off the
    internet, so we didn’t publish it. We also don’t reply to advertisers in case
    they are potential scammers and learn how to get around our vetting process. We
    were glad that you contacted us yesterday – normally the legitimate advertisers
    contact us and we help them directly. You raise all good pointers for
    advertisers – thanks again for the review. Please feel free to contact us
    directly again next time you need to post an ad – all our contact details are
    available online and we’re ready to help.

    Regards, Alec from Kalahari Ads.

  • Anonymous

    SURE! You mean like those BIG cheques they hand over to contest winners and charities?

  • http://twitter.com/thewomble_za Greg Mahlknecht

    I think all the banks (I’ve used FNB’s and Standard’s) have a link on their website to verify proof of payments.  You can pop on there, enter the details from the proof the person sends you, and voila, sorted.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Alec,

    Thanks for your comment, and I totally understand your viewpoint. 

    But what frustrated me with Kalahari Ads was that I posted the ad four times, and it sat in the queue “awaiting approval” for a few minutes and then it just disappeared. No indication that it was rejected, no reason given, no e-mails to say it was rejected and why.  

    You guys also have no phone numbers on your website and an info e-mail address that I only got a reply from four days later.  A comprehensive FAQ on your site would also help.

    I like the fact that you take scam prevention seriously and I’ll gladly make use of Kalahari Ads in the future (it was my first port of call for my phone after all) but I think there needs to be some work done when it comes to customer service.

    Nic.

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