Stay Safe Online – here’s how

Experts agree that online commerce has become the norm for many South Africans, with a considerable number of the population logging onto e-tailing websites, online classifieds and other sites to buy or sell goods. While the trade has done wonders in creating jobs and new opportunities, there is a dark side – criminals are taking advantage of the anonymity of the web to run a number of scams.

Whilst many scams are easy to spot, some of extremely sophisticated, says Claire Cobbledick of Gumtree South Africa. “Scammers will go as far as to create fake online profiles and a believable digital footprint to fool unsuspecting victims,” says Cobbledick. “That doesn’t mean that there aren’t means of catching them at it before you get duped, however.”

  1. The company representative scheme

Although there are many reputable dealerships and businesses that use online classifieds to sell their goods and services, users should be aware of how businesses they deal with operate and flag any suspicious activity. “For example, if you receive an email from a @gumtree.co.za address offering to sell you goods, particularly vehicles, that should raise an immediate red flag,” says Cobbledick. “Gumtree will only contact you in regards to ads you have posted, tickets you may have raised or a promotion you may have entered – 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 one on the site. “When in doubt, contact our customer service department – they are available 24/7 to answer queries.”

  1. Rental schemes

There havealso been instances where properties were advertised for rent, usually at quite low rates, only for hopeful tenants to find out that the property did not belong to the advertiser. “Never hand over money without signing a lease,” says Cobbledick. “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.”

  1. Goods that are too good to be true

Although there are numerous bargains to be found, ads that are too good to be true usually are, says Cobbledick. “If the latest iPhone hasn’t been released in the States yet, chances are you won’t find it at a bargain price online,” says Cobbledick. “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.”

  1. It’s complicated…

Other scammers offer goods for sale, but include 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,” says Cobbledick. “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.”

  1. 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,” says Cobbledick. “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.”

Cobbledick advises users to educate themselves about common scams that are doing the rounds, and to always report suspicious activity. “The only way to curb online crime is for users to flag these fraudulent posts and to report any instance where they may have been the victim of a scammer,” says Cobbledick. “We work closely with law enforcement and each and every case reported is treated as a matter of urgency.”

Cobbledick says the most important rule to remember is to always err on the side of caution.  “If something feels wrong, trust your instincts and don’t be tempted to complete a transaction. There are literally millions of legitimate buyers and sellers out there  – chances are you will find what you are looking for elsewhere soon enough.”

Sharing is caring!