How to fight back if you've been scammed online

Gumtree has been named South Africa's most popular website. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Gumtree has been named South Africa's most popular website. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town - Criminals are intent on scamming people during the holiday season and they will happily use online classifieds to do so.

Despite the increasing safety strategies of online transactions, there are people who will continually look to exploit you online.

"The best way to prevent a scam is to trust your instincts and walk away if a deal seems too good to be true," advised Claire Cobbledick, head of Marketing at Gumtree SA.

The online classifieds provider, which is owned by eBay, says that out of the 22 million interactions on the site every month, only a small percentage involve suspicious activity.

But even if you are scammed, you should not take it lying down.

"If however you do find yourself out of pocket due to an online scam, the worst thing you can do is to do nothing at all," said Cobbledick.

Obvious scams

Obvious scams online include deals that are too good to be true.

For example, sellers offering free puppies, are often scammers who use the emotional bond to extract money upfront from people who genuinely want to adopt a dog.

They will terrorise the victims by saying that if they don't receive money for inoculations, transport or pet food, they will have to put the puppy down. Despite the victim paying, no puppy will ever be delivered.

Jobs scams are also popular online. Scammers will advertise for a job, but the applicant will be required to pay for a training course upfront which will secure the employment that never arrives.

Be wary of people who offer to pay more than the asking price for items you advertise online. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cobbledick said that classifieds site users should report scams and that Gumtree works with the police to track down criminals.

"Reporting a crime doesn’t always result in getting your money or goods back but it goes a long way to ensuring that others don’t fall victim to the same crime and that the site in question becomes safer," she said.

Here are some tips for what to do if you have been a scamming victim on an online classified site:

•    Report the incident to the classified site immediately, sending them as much information as possible about the ad in question as possible. They can retrieve and store information to pass on to the police.
•    Report the incident to your local police station so that they can open a case. Send the details of the investigating officer to the classifieds, along with your case number.
•    If you haven't fallen victim to the scam, but you suspect that someone was attempting to scam you, report it immediately to the classified in question. They can investigate and take steps to prevent that person from carrying through with their plans.

Watch this video on the top online scams.

Have you been a victim of online scams? Let us know what happened.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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