How to avoid being scammed online

TIP: Only pay via EFT if you don’t feel comfortable carrying a wad of cash. Do the seller a huge favour by clearing the funds immediately and check with the seller if they actually did receive them. Everybody will sleep much better! (Photo: Shutterst
TIP: Only pay via EFT if you don’t feel comfortable carrying a wad of cash. Do the seller a huge favour by clearing the funds immediately and check with the seller if they actually did receive them. Everybody will sleep much better! (Photo: Shutterst

Cape Town – After Fin24 received numerous cases about online fraud occurring on classifieds sites in South Africa, OLX highlighted the best ways to avoid being caught out, while continuing to enjoy the benefits of the free service.

Fin24 users shared stories about fraudsters operating on online classifieds sites, with electronics and vehicles being the prime target, while payment notification ploys were being used in various ways.

Fin24 user Shane Aitken said the latest scam involved selling a mobile phone or laptop.

“Someone calls and says he is out of town and will do an EFT and then could you meet his son at a shopping mall. They are so clever that they make a fake proof of payment slip from an EFT and then deposit a stolen check into your account so the funds show, but are not cleared.”

“I think the online classifieds businesses should work together with the SAP and do a sting operation to catch these scum bags.”

Payment confirmation scam

Fin24 user Tanya Early said vigilance prevailed for her, when a scammer tried to bully her into handing over a treadmill she had advertised.

“A payment confirmation came through on my cellphone,” she said. “I had been caught before, so I decided not release the goods until the money was available in my account.”

“[The fraudster] kept calling me, saying everything’s all good and I must send him the address immediately. I refused, saying I will send him my address when the money clears.

“Needless to say, I never heard from him again. I took a closer look at the payment confirmation and then started noticing a few flaws in it. There was no account holder number on it (there are normally at least a few digits to say which account it’s from), the date on which the said transfer was done was wrong – the idiot dated it the day before the payment was apparently made.”

South African sites like Scam Buster and SA Fraud Prevention Service as well as international sites like Scam Warners and Scam are excellent for all internet users to better understand the dangers of online fraud and scams.

OLX’s anti-fraud stand

Tamryn Combrink, head of strategy and marketing at OLX South Africa, said their site was a platform where buyers could meet sellers. “Today millions of people use online classifieds such as OLX each day,” she told Fin24.

“Although the bulk of buyers and sellers are legitimate and wish to buy and sell legally, as with other trading platforms there are those out there that will try to act fraudulently.

“We are deeply disappointed when we hear of scams, as ultimately we want buyers and sellers to engage in a transaction which is beneficial to both parties, and although we try to educate our users as much as possible via messaging during the selling or buying process, and via social media, these scams sadly do still occur.

“We appeal to all who use OLX, and other online classifieds, to be vigilant and take note of the important buying and selling safety guidelines. All of this is visible on our website and we are more than happy to assist buyers or sellers who seek further advice.”

Combrink offered these safety tips for buyers:

- If it’s too good to be true, guess what? It’s a scam.

- Try to meet in a safe, public place and bring a friend.

- Always call the seller. You’re a great judge of character! Also, you have just verified his or her phone number.

- Agree on a plan. If it changes at the last minute, cancel.

- If you are intimidated or made to feel guilty, leave immediately. It’s a scam.

- Check the item before paying. If the item is electronic, plug it in or get it charged to see if it works the way you hoped! This is also true for housing rentals. If you can’t tour the house or apartment before renting it, it’s likely not available.

- If you’re buying a cellphone check if the serial number (under the battery) is not 11111111111 and check if the serial number is the same as the one printed on the box.  If it isn’t, walk away.

-  If you’re buying a vehicle or trailer make sure you verify vehicle identification numbers (VIN). First of all, check that the vehicle’s serial number on the engine corresponds with the number in the papers of the car. The best thing to do is to buy a full report about the vehicle at Transunion for R99. Do it! It’s worth every rand.

- Always pay in cash and ask for a receipt. Walk away if the seller requests a deposit.

- Only pay via EFT if you don’t feel comfortable carrying a wad of cash. Do the seller a huge favour by clearing the funds immediately and check with the seller if they actually did receive them. Everybody will sleep much better!

- Never give out financial details to a stranger. They’re for your eyes only.

- Don’t use escrow services, Moneygram or Western Union: Scam!

- Avoid makings transactions with sellers not based in South Africa.

- If someone says they work for OLX, please contact us to verify. We’re a small team and everybody knows each other. Hey, you might get lucky and meet all of us if you exchange at our Cape Town offices!

- OLX will NEVER ask you to pay a deposit. We absolutely do not run a so-called "OLX Purchase Programme": Scam!

- Illegal activity always leads to problems. Just don’t do it.

- Remember, we are not involved in any transactions!

- Be neighbourly: Although we employ a team of content quality checkers, whose aim is to filter out certain ads, if you’ve spotted a scam let us know and we’ll take it off our site immediately.
Combrink offered these safety tips for sellers:
- Outsmarting buyers with questionable motives is not as hard as it seems either.

- Read the tips above and put yourself in your buyer’s shoes.

- Keep it real: Make your item shine on OLX, but prevent mutual disappointment. Don’t twist the facts about your item too much towards the positive.

- Meet in a safe, public place and bring a friend.

- Always call the buyer. You’re a great judge of character! Also, you just verified his or her phone number for later reference.

- Never give out financial information except to those that a buyer needs to pay you.

- Always take full payment when exchanging the item. Never release your item before you received all funds.

- Preferably get paid in cash on delivery.

- Request an EFT with immediate clearance if you’re not comfortable walking the streets with a bundle of your newly made cash. Be sure to check with your bank if the payment came through during the exchange. Don’t trust a text message from your bank alone. Check your received payments in your online banking environment or call your bank personally.

“Do you aant to know the golden guideline to rule them all,” said Combrink. “Follow your instincts! It’s as simple as that. And don’t forget: seven out 10 things on OLX sell within a week and four things are exchanged every minute. So you can do it too! Everybody has something to sell.”
For more tips and advice on what to look out for, visit OLX's help section.
OLX’s blog has several useful articles such as:
- Outsmarting scammers, tricksters and pranksters
- What to look out for when booking holiday accommodation
OLX said that if people were scammed, they should email them here so that they can block the lister and remove the ad. The person needs to open a criminal case at a police station.

* Fin24 is part of Media24, a subsidiary of Naspers, which owns OLX.

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