Be discerning about the way you buy, sell or swop items online

For as long as we’re active online, we are all vulnerable to the dangers that accompany interacting on the Internet

September 4, 2012

For as long as we’re active online, we are all vulnerable to the dangers that accompany interacting on the Internet, however  there are steps you can take to ensure that these exchanges are made as securely as possible. While online portals cannot eliminate the risks entirely, using a local classified portal that knows and understands South African consumer behaviour and pitfalls will certainly minimise the risks

According to Felix Erken, MD of local classifieds exchange, Junk Mail, the perception that online classified sites are rife with fraudulent posts or online scams is false. “Less than 1% of the adverts on our site are considered “fraudulent” – and we eliminate most of them before they are ever published,” Erken says.  “We don’t actually facilitate the physical transaction between the seller and the buyer, but we do have measures in place to protect both parties, such as the automated moderation of adverts. If a suspicious advert is detected, a red flag is raised by the automated system; the advert is passed to the moderation expert team for review.  Should the content raise a cause for concern, it is immediately removed.

According to Erken, online classifieds are currently the safest they’ve ever been since their inception.  “There are so many social tools and mechanisms to flag suspicious advertisements as opposed to the print only days or the early days of the Internet,” Erken explains. “We encourage users to report suspicious ads immediately. We also keep a record of these adverts and scams on our blog, which the public can consult if they are unsure of the legitimacy of an advert.”

Erken acknowledges that there are risks involved when buying or selling, regardless of the platform. “Whenever there is interaction with strangers, there is a degree of risk – whether you are online dating, advertising an open house via estate agent or pinning an advertisement to the actual window of your car,” he states. “Mitigate the risk as much you can by making use of local suppliers who are familiar with scams that are doing the rounds in your area, and following their guidelines carefully.”

Erken advises that if a deal seems too good to be true, it usually is. He says that one of the most common scams doing the rounds currently are the so-called “petrol scams”. “Advertisements pop up for high-quality, high-end goods such as new cars at very low prices,” he explains. “When the potential buyer asks to see the vehicle, the seller responds by saying that he/she does not have enough petrol to drive to the buyer and asks for R100 or R200 to cover petrol costs or airtime. When the buyer transfers the money, the seller fails to pitch.” Similar activity happens with pet sales. These are often emotional purchases and buyers are lured by their heartstrings to pay for non- existent pets upfront.

Erken shares tips below for internet users when buying, swopping or selling online and highlights the warning signs to look out for of below:

Hints for the buyer and seller:

  • Know the potential buyer/ seller – have a name, telephone number, place of work and the contact details at hand. Always verify these details and ask for alternative numbers, emails, utility bill corresponding or payslips etc.
  • As an extra safety precaution, always have a friend accompany you when meeting a prospective buyer/seller and do this in a very public place such as a police station etc
  • Do not be in a hurry to transact. If something doesn’t feel right, move on to the next buyer/seller.
  • Leave your valuables at home when meeting with a prospective buyer/seller.
  • Cash or EFT should be your preferred method of trade.  Accepting goods such as jewellery, investment opportunities or stocks as an alternative for cash is not a good idea.
  • Wait for deposits to clear before handing over any goods and don’t trust SMS notifications as proof of payment

Danger signs

A seller who seems almost too keen to get rid of the item, even agreeing to a huge reduction in asking prices should immediately arouse suspicion:

  • When buying a car 

Check with your local police station that the car has not been reported or stolen.  Ask an expert to accompany you to view and test drive the car or ask for a roadworthy test upfront

  • When renting property avoid holding deposits

Fraudsters have been known to ask for holding deposits  or a month’s rent in advance and give the impression that a deal for the rental of the property has been included.  This is a common occurrence as the fraudster then disappears with the deposits leaving many victims behind.  Ensure that valid contracts are in place before parting with a deposit and that you have access to the property.

  • When buying a  pet 

Meet at a vet (of your choice) to get a professional opinion on the condition of the animal and the verification of pedigree etc. This should deter scammers

While making classified transactions, be wary and vigilant to ensure that you are not a victim to crime.  “Trust your gut,” Erken advises. “If a situation makes you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable, rather be safe and avoid the deal entirely”.

Online classifieds are no more dangerous than other form of advertising, but the onus remains on both the buyer and the seller to take every safety precaution possible before conducting a transaction.

Always be vigilant and report fraud or scams to the customer care contact number that should be visible on the website that you are transacting on.  Be smart, savvy and stay safe!