• Jean van Wyk
  • September 5, 2019
  • Uncategorized

As payments move online, fraudsters are following

Wherever your customers are in the world, most of them are probably online. More and more people are choosing to shop online for things that traditionally would have been bought in store, such as furniture, fashion and most of all electronics.

The whole world loves online shopping, and South Africa is catching on FAST. The global eCommerce market is predicted to grow to 4.9 trillion US dollars (R73 728 000 000 000,00, we can’t even pronounce that amount, what is it even…) by 2021. In 2018, one in every ten dollars spent globally was spent online, and by 2022 online sales will make up 17% of all global consumer sales.

With so many customers storing card details and making payments online, making use of classifieds sites and the now popular Facebook Marketplace – fraudsters can’t resist taking advantage, and online payment fraud is rising fast.

So what scams are common in South Africa?

For buyers

Scammers will pose as genuine sellers and post fake ads on classifieds websites, Facebook groups and in print classifieds. They may even be so cheeky to approach you through email or on social media platforms.

The ad can be for anything, such as rental properties or accommodation, pets, used cars, boats, bikes, caravans and horses, but high end consumer electronics are the most popular as they tend to sell fast. It may even include pictures and other details – often copied from a genuine seller’s ad. In order to lure a number of victims in a hurry, the scammer advertises the item at a low price (if something seems too good to be true, it usually is), often much lower than comparable items advertised on the same site.

When you show interest in the item, the scammer may claim that they are travelling or have moved overseas and that an agent will deliver the goods following receipt of payment, or that they have so many other interested parties and you need to pay NOW, even if it is just a “holding fee”. Following payment you may receive a fake email receipt or social media message claiming to be from the website’s secure payment provider, however, you won’t receive the goods and will not be able to contact the seller.

In the case of rental properties, the scammer will pose as a property owner or landlord and post a fake copy of a genuine rental property ad. When you show interest, the scammer will make excuses as to why you cannot inspect the property, often claiming that they are currently overseas. If you are still interested, they will ask for bond, rent payments or deposits in advance. You will never receive the keys to the property and the scammer will disappear with your money.

For sellers

If you are advertising your items for sale through print and online classifieds, beware of scammers posing as genuine buyers. Scammers may make up stories such as sending an Uber driver to collect your goods and they will pay afterwards, or they want to pay after you have sent them tracking details.

Scammers are also VERY crafty at duplicating bank documents such as proof of payments. It may seem like the money is in your account but it is not “available” yet.
Do not send any goods before payment reflects in your bank account, and you have moved payment to another account or drawn the money.

In all of the above cases, you will lose the money you gave the scammer, and if you have already sent the item you were selling, you will lose it as well.

Warning signs

For buyers

  • The classified ad promotes products, services or rental properties advertised at very low prices, often lower than comparable items advertised on the same and other websites, if it seems too good to be true, be careful..
  • The seller claims to be unavailable (e.g. they are travelling or have moved overseas) and insists on payment prior to arranging for delivery of the goods.
  • The seller requests that you pay through any kind of money transfer to his/her cell number. There is no valid reason for this, so this one is a dead giveaway.
  • The seller is unwilling to provide you with a copy of his/her ID document, proof of banking details and proof of address.
  • When dealing with rental property, the ‘landlord’ won’t allow you to view the property and will ask for bond, rent payments or deposits in advance.
  • The seller’s Facebook profile has been created recently (within the last month or so), has very little friends and personal posts (only shared posts). Scammers know this and may also set their Facebook security so you cannot see anything on their profile. In this case, send them a friend request so you can see their profile – you can always delete and/or block them afterwards.
  • Scammers are arrogant and underestimate their victims intelligence, be smart – if you catch them in a single lie they are probably attempting a scam.

For sellers

  • The potential buyer is willing to purchase your item without having viewed it in person – even if you are selling an expensive item such as a car.
  • A potential overseas buyer is interested in purchasing your item despite it being a commonly available item in their home country (e.g. a car or a couch). Often the shipping costs would far outweigh the cost of the item itself.
  • The buyer sends you a cheque for more than the agreed price, and then asks you to refund the overpaid amount.
  • The buyer insists at meeting you at a place where there are not a lot of people around.
  • The buyer sends you a proof of payment from their personal email (it should come from the bank directly) – also check the logo, it should not blur/pixelate.
  • The buyer keeps pushing you to send the goods before the money reflects, and gets aggressive when you say no.

Protect yourself

For buyers

  • If the advertised price of a product, service or rental property looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you have any doubts, don’t go ahead with the deal ( trust your gut).
  • Don’t trust the legitimacy of an ad just because it appears in a reputable newspaper or classifieds website – scammers post fake ads in these too.
  • Do a Google search using the exact wording in the ad, many well-known scams can be found this way.
  • For rental properties or holiday accommodation, only use reputable online booking agents – do an online search to find out which ones are reliable. Always check the refunds and cancellations policy.
  • For expensive physical goods, the safest option is to only pay the seller after you have inspected the goods in person. Similarly, do not pay a deposit or any partial payments before you have inspected an item.
  • Don’t trust an ad that says you can buy a pet from overseas in a few weeks as there are quarantine procedures that need to be followed.
  • Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for payment via money transfer to cell number, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency, like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
  • Do a google search on the cell number, name and/or company.
  • NEVER pay before you have seen the product personally (except when buying from reputable eCommerce companies, but be careful with classifieds)
  • ALWAYS meet at a very public place with loads of people, or even better at a police station.

For sellers

  • Be wary of any transactions that involve an over payment, and requests to refund the excess money by internet banking or wire transfers.
  • Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for payment via money transfer to cell number, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency, like Bitcoin.
    Only accept EFT payments to your bank account, and only release goods once payment reflects in your account and you have drawn/moved it.
  • Do not accept cheque payments
  • Avoid cash transactions, you endanger yourself of being robbed at the meeting point or on the way home/to the bank.
  • For items of high value, do not allow potential buyers to inspect the goods without someone else being there to supervise.

Should you suspect you are being scammed and need our input/advice before completing the transaction please feel free to contact us. We are for a safe online environment, and will do everything in our power to assist in creating this.

Disclaimer: These are but guidelines and behavioral traits to look out for. It is still your responsibility as a buyer/seller to ensure that you conduct your business in a safe and secure way.