How to spot a fraudster posing as a genuine buyer and what to do if your cellphone is stolen

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler’s “watch-outs of the week”

If your cellphone is stolen, remember to de-link the banking app on your phone from your account. Most banks enable you to do that yourself by going into your account online from another device.
If your cellphone is stolen, remember to de-link the banking app on your phone from your account. Most banks enable you to do that yourself by going into your account online from another device.
Image: 123RF/SAM74100

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:

How to spot the fraudster posing as a genuine buyer

Online marketplaces are a great way to flog your unwanted possessions or pick up a bargain, but many first-time sellers are duped by fraudsters and end up unintentionally gifting them instead.

It happened to Cape Town's Laché Pretorius last week, because she missed several red flags; things she feels Gumtree should make sellers aware of in a hard-to-miss way.

The man who said he wanted to buy her R12,000 keyboard made a big deal about being a family and church-orientated man. Sadly, in this context, that’s almost always a red flag.

Then he suggested they move their sales negotiations to WhatsApp: second red flag.

“They do this to take the conversation off the Gumtree platform so that the conversation cannot be monitored or traced by the platform itself,” says Gumtree MD Claire Cobbledick.

The man said he would do an immediate payment via his bank and Laché later received a proof-of-payment SMS from his bank. These are very easily faked, as in this case.

When the money didn’t reflect, Laché asked the courier service to halt delivery of the keyboard, but then relented when the “buyer” said the bank must have made a mistake by not processing the payment as immediate. And there went her keyboard into the arms of the fraudster.

WHAT TO DO:

Never agree to take your conversation onto WhatsApp if you’re selling something on Gumtree or asking for help on a company’s Facebook page.

Never trust a proof of payment SMS. Always wait for the money to reflect in your bank account before releasing the goods, no matter what the “buyer” tells you.

Cobbledick said the Gumtree site had various links to warnings about fraud and best practice for users, and regularly issues warnings via media releases and social media posts. “However we do take this feedback as an indication that we could be doing more; we are currently exploring additional technical options to offer more on-site support as well as making HELP buttons more visible,” she said.

You really need to know how to do this, fast, if your cellphone is stolen

Imagine your cellphone has just been snatched out of your hand in a public place — what would you do?

Most people would report the theft to their cellphone service provider and ask that the phone be “blocked”. That should be done, of course, but if you have a banking app on your phone, it’s vital that make sure that a tech savvy fraudster can’t get into that app and clean out your account, plus help themselves to all your available credit.

The most effective way of doing that is to de-link the banking app on your phone from your account.

Most banks enable you to do that yourself by going into your account online from another device — desktop computer, laptop or tablet.

My advice is to find out how to do that, now, while you are calm, and do it a few times, so if you should be unexpectedly parted from your phone, you know exactly what to do to protect your funds.

Before you click 'pay', know who you are dealing with

Finally, the MrShopper site has been taken down, but not before scores of consumers paid for products — mostly fairly expensive appliances — and never received them.

“Is there any hope of getting my money back?” Priscilla asked me last week, when she discovered that the site had been deactivated.

She paid for a Phillips premium airfryer five months ago, and has been trying to get delivery and then a refund ever since.

“I only ever got one e-mail response saying delivery would take place within the next five days,” she said. “When I phoned the call centre, I would get to the front of the queue only to be told that the operator at that extension was unavailable.

“Finally, at the end of February, I managed to get hold of a Mr Shopper employee who said he would cancel my order and all I had to do was e-mail payments@mrshopper.co.za with my proof of purchase and banking details and I would receive a refund with 10 working days.”

That didn’t happen, of course. And my e-mailed media queries were ignored.

This sorry scenario is yet another example of why it’s so important to do your homework before buying goods online. That’s easily done online, too. If the e-tailer has a pattern of non-delivery and a shocking aftersales reputation, you will easily discover that, and, armed with that information, you’ll know to choose one of the many reputable online retailers instead.

CONTACT WENDY: E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za; Twitter: @wendyknowler; Facebook: wendyknowlerconsumer


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