CAPE TOWN – So you think you are way too savvy to be scammed?

Well, be warned: fraud is a fast-moving sector and fraudsters often add emotional blackmail to technical trickery to trap the unwary.

Just as the 2016 festive shopping season entered its final, soon-to-be frantic lap, an example was brought to the attention of the African News Agency (ANA) by a source whose normally rock-solid defences against fake news, general tomfoolery and the like very nearly failed this week.

The source, who shall go by the name Nameless, asked not to be identified. Nameless requested anonymity not because selling unwanted items on websites like Gumtree to release cash to fund seasonal splurges is anything to be embarrassed about, but because he/she was so nearly suckered by the supposed buyer, who I will call Shameless.

Nameless advertised a gadget for sale on Gumtree; Shameless responded almost immediately asking if it was still available. After receiving a message that it was available Shameless went quiet for the rest of the day (all of this was done through the Gumtree site).

The next contact was in the early evening (once banks had closed of course). Shameless said he was interested and asked for Nameless’s telephone number.

Soon Shameless called Nameless and said the gadget was a gift for his child, whose birthday party was that evening (Let’s add dodgy parenting to the charges here for leaving a child’s gift purchase so late).

Unfortunately he can’t bring cash as his card has expired, he said, but he could do an electronic funds transfer (EFT) if Nameless sent account details. Nameless obliged.

In quick succession, Nameless received what looked like a proof of payment and a phone call from Shameless asking for her address for collection. She sent that but also quickly went online to see if there was any way to verify payment notifications and also called the helpline of the bank concerned.

The guidance here was clear: do not release the goods until the money has arrived and been cleared, especially since this “proof of payment” did not have a reference number or the payee’s account number.

At this point, Shameless turned up the heat a little, calling and saying a driver was outside to collect, the funds had left his account, it was his son’s birthday.

“How can you do this to him?” he cried.

This is one of those moments when it can so easily happen that the heart takes the wheel. In the case of ANA’s informant the brain was left in charge and Shameless was sent packing.

Nameless immediately reported the attempted fraud to Gumtree, who took action against the user, who never called back.
Claire Cobbledick, Gumtree’s head of marketing, says the company has a “team of customer service agents available around the clock to deal with complaints”.

They investigate and if a complaint is serious they block the account.

She said fake proof of payment was “one of the most common online scams doing the rounds on classifieds and social media”.

Cobbledick said there were two ways of faking a proof of payment being used at the moment. One was to send an SMS with bogus information (such as the one Nameless received). The other involves depositing a cheque at the bank and getting the bank to send a proof of payment and then cancelling the cheque.

In the latter case, the fraudster will claim that he or she will be making a EFT payment, but will instead make a cheque deposit at a bank. When the cheque is deposited, a proof of payment is sent by the bank and the person usually hands over the goods. However, cheques can take time to clear so the fraudster could still cancel the cheque.

So that’s just one more worry to slow down the time-pressed last-minute shopper. Unfortunately it seems the best (maybe only) way to protect oneself is to … Slow down.

Cobbledick says: “The best way to protect yourself against either scam is not to hand over goods until funds have cleared in the account.”

“This means that the money reflects in your accessible balance when checking your electronic banking. When dealing with an EFT payment of any kind, phone your bank to check whether funds have cleared before handing over any goods,” she said.

Or, better yet, buy or sell via, an escrow service that is endorsed by Gumtree. Powered by Standard bank, Shepherd processes payment for items purchased via Gumtree.

It makes sense to be extra careful and, according to Gumtree, if a deal seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Other tips from the company are: do not transact with any person who claims to be outside of the country and thus unable to show you an item in person, always meet in a public place and take someone with you, and be wary of sellers who try to create a sense of urgency such as requiring a holding deposit or insisting on payment before viewing (or a child’s birthday party that is about to start).

Should you be scammed, Gumtree urges immediate action. If any money has been paid over alert your bank immediately, the payment might be reversible.

Victims of a crime should report it as soon as possible at the nearest police station, as well as to Gumtree.
Responses from banks were unanimous too that consumers should not let go of the goods until the funds were in their account reflecting as available.

Charlaine Albertyn, head of fraud at FNB Value Banking Solutions, said: “Never accept a notification as a proof of payment; notifications are merely informative messages to let consumers know when a payment has been made.”
Capitech also urged consumers not to rely on proof of payment.

“Physical proof of payment such as a bank statement can be forged, and telling if it has been isn’t easy,” a Capitech spokesperson said. “Rather wait until the money has cleared in your account before you hand over what you’re selling.”

Various banks have verification tools on their websites, which is a good first point of call for anyone who doubts the authenticity of a proof of payment, but the firmest advice remains to hold on, slow down, breathe and don’t let go until you are sure it is safe to do so.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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