Online classifieds have become a hive of activity where millions of people trade. Criminals know this all too well and are ready to capitalise on unsuspecting buyers and sellers.
“We’ve all heard of people who sold a car, only to find the EFT cancelled once the car was released, arrived at their holiday accommodation to find the real owners still living there, or paid a deposit on the ‘deal of a lifetime’ that turned out to be a scam of the same proportions,” says Elmarie Twilley, spokesperson for Afrikaans insurance brand, Virseker. “Scepticism and common sense are key because without them, you’re almost guaranteed to land in a criminal’s crosshairs.”
With this in mind, Virseker offers the following tips:
- Screen potential buyers thoroughly – if you find anything suspicious about a seller’s profile or behaviour, avoid them.
- Ensure your ad or conversation with a potential buyer excludes particulars that they could use to trace your physical address before you’ve screened them.
- Don’t share details like your vehicle’s registration number or VIN – this could be used for identity theft.
- Meet potential buyers in a safe environment, and take someone you trust with you. If you meet at your home, have a panic button of your armed security company on hand.
- Never release goods to buyers before they have paid for it. Insist on cash or bank guaranteed cheques before releasing goods. Verify that these are legitimate and are of the right amount.
- If you accept an EFT, check with your bank that the correct amount of money has been deposited, and is secure, before releasing the goods.
- Avoid buyers who insist on using global money transfer services like Moneygram or Western Union.
- Report suspicious buyers to the respective site’s administrators.
- Rule number 1: if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
- If possible, check the seller’s rating and feedback.
- Avoid meeting sellers at locations that seem unsafe, especially sellers who refuse to meet you in a public space.
- Don’t ever give your credit card or banking details to a seller.
- Don’t take cash with you the first time that you meet a seller. After you’ve verified that it’s a legitimate deal, you can draw the money from a nearby ATM.
- Take your time inspecting the goods and making sure that they are/work as advertised.
- If a seller claims to represent a reputable dealer, verify their details with the dealer.
- Don’t ever pay a “holding deposit”.
- Avoid sellers who insist on using international payment services. They’ll often supply you with forged invoices with the logos of reputable service providers, but with their own banking details.
- Report suspicious sellers to the respective site’s administrators.
Twilley concludes: “Claims for fraud through classifieds, online or otherwise, are assessed on individual merit, and there is not guarantee of payout – especially if you were negligent. Clichéd as it may be, the best rule of thumb is to always rather be safe than sorry!”