Why trading online is safer than you think

A recent poll has shown that South Africans are still somewhat divided when it comes to meeting with online traders through classified sites.

April 23, 2014

by Claire Cobbledick of Gumtree South Africa

A recent poll has shown that South Africans are still somewhat divided when it comes to meeting with online traders through classified sites, with about 51% of the close to 10,000 respondents saying that they do not transact online and 31% saying they prefer to browse online but transact face-to-face. While all of us should be aware of the possible dangers of online transacting, it shouldn’t be a deterrent, says Claire Cobbledick of Gumtree South Africa.

“As with any other e-tailing platform, there are risks associated with classifieds but also great benefits,” says Cobbledick. “Reputable classifieds offer goods at significantly lower prices than retail value, localised services, and a huge variety of items generated by an active community, such as rentals, jobs, cars and household goods.”

Cobbledick says that Gumtree has several safety mechanisms in place to ensure the safety of the community – although it’s the diligence of the users themselves that have made it a particularly safe place to trade. “We conduct random ad screenings, but all ads that are flagged by our community as suspicious are personally reviewed by our support team,” she says. “Users love the site and are quite keen to ensure that it keeps doing what it does best – providing a link between buyers and sellers. If a scammer does slip through, they report it extremely quickly.”

This is crucial, Cobbledick says, as the site works closely with government, industry bodies and local law enforcement to track down these individuals. “We also collaborate with numerous government and industry partners to share best practices, support investigations and help raise public awareness of online safety.”

Gumtree also employs extremely sophisticated filtering systems that prohibit known fraudsters from accessing the site again. “In addition, we have a customer service support team that is fully operational 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, to assist users that have queries or concerns about safety or any other issues on the site.”

Users can visit the on-site blog for regular updates on common scams that have been doing the rounds across various online classifieds sites. “The reality is that although one is more likely to read about negative online experiences, there are 30,000 new ads posted every minute but only about 30 complaints lodged per month,” says Cobbledick. “Aggressive combating of online scams, combined with our ongoing efforts to educate and alert users will make it even safer to transact online.”

Cobbledick provides the following advice for users making use of online classifieds for the first time. “It’s best to meet in public places (such as coffee shops or the local police station) when meeting a trader face-to-face. If you are showing your house to prospective tenants, ask them to provide proof of identity before scheduling a visit and make sure that you aren’t alone in the home at the time. It is advisable to obtain the buyer/seller’s name, phone number and place of work before meeting. These details should be verified,” she says. “Also refrain from giving out too much personal information via email or SMS – particularly account details. Never provide anyone with passwords to your accounts.”

A detailed list of current online scams can be viewed here.