Don’t get scammed when buying or selling online

Unfortunately we live in a world where there are people who will try taking our possessions and defrauding us, in fact someone tried to do exactly this to me this week.

I advertised a camera body last week and someone from JHB responded to my ad on Friday saying they wanted the camera body. I asked them to do and EFT transfer which they said they would. I am not sure what it was but something just told me to be extra careful with this one. By Saturday I had still not received an confirmation of EFT and when I called him, he said that it had been done on Saturday morning from Nedbank and that the conformation would come through but could I ship the camera to him in the meantime.

I pretty much realised at this stage that something was wrong and informed him that the camera would only leave here one the funds had cleared in my account. I decided to wait till Monday to see what happened but was pretty sure I knew what would happen.

Monday 12pm, like clockwork, I get a notification that a cheque has been deposited into my account and I notice it’s also for the wrong amount. I call him back and he has a story that’s it not a cheque, the EFT came from a cheque account that’s why it says cheque deposit.

I immediately contacted FNB, explained the story and told them to return the cheque and also to get their fraud squad to call me so I could give them all the details. The bank itself said they could only look at the cheque the next morning when they cleared the deposit machine. The Fraud division have still not bothered to contact me.

When the branch finally cleared the machine yesterday, they found that it was an ABSA cheque and it wasn’t the only one. He had deposited a number of the same cheques into other people accounts.  I asked the bank to make sure they notified all the other account holders immediately and warn them.

So what did I learn from this well firstly our banks don’t seem to care about fraud or intend to do anything to try prevent it. Secondly instead of going straight to the ADT machine and then discovering that other clients could have been scammed, FNB waited 24 hours, exposing those clients to a greater risk.

Secondly seeing the banks are not going to help us we need to protect ourselves from fraud and here are some suggestions on how to do it.

The safest way of getting paid these days is via EFT however there is even a risk with an EFT payment. Many of us assume that once we have gotten a confirmation from a bank via sms or email that the funds have been transferred.

Not true, it’s really easy to spoof both meaning that the only reliable method you have it to wait till the funds are in your account and check with the bank that it was infact an EFT and not a cheque deposit.

FNB do have a feature on their website, the rest of the S.A. banks don’t seem to have this, where you can verify an EFT confirmation but it’s still safer to wait 24 hours and check for yourself.

Once you see the funds in your account, check with the bank that they have infact cleared and you should be ok. If you want to be really safe, transfer the money immediately to another account. As Dwane pointed out, maybe wait two days before doing this…

The second option is insist on cash but this also has risks. Firstly there is some counterfeit money floating around and secondly you could end up carrying lots of cash plus you will be charged a cash deposit fee when you bank it.

If you are going to get paid a lot of cash, try borrowing a portable note scanner to check that the cash is real, taking someone with you and meeting in a safe public place. I know of people who have even met at their bank, deposited the cash and then handed over the goods in the banking hall.

Don’t accept cheque payments, it’s not worth the risk.

As a buyer people are often concerned that the goods may not be real and you may find yourself at either end of this.

Buying and selling locally and meeting to do the transaction, again in a safe public place makes this a lot easier but if you are doing either online you can take a few precautions to minimise the risk.

  • If selling, don’t jump at the first offer if it’s out of town, wait a while to see if anyone local responds and don’t let a buyer pressure you into a sale.
  • If you are buying from someone out of town, try get someone you know close to the seller’s location to go view the goods and transact on your behalf if you can.
  • Only buy through reputable sites and ask the seller if they can provided you references for previous purchasers.
  • Ask the seller to take a picture of the goods on top of that days newspaper and be willing to do this if you are the seller.
Some more tips kindly provided by Digital Depot
  • Use platforms that provide a layer of protection, as well as ratings from other buyers so you can see if they are trustworthy (eg. Bid or Buy)
  • When selling things, remember that platforms such as Facebook Marketplace can show you how someone is connected to you and you can then check with that person.
  • If the person selling claims to be a company- ask for their registration and VAT number so that you can confirm them.

Most legitimate sellers will understand that you would be concerned parting with money for goods you haven’t seen and if the get aggressive when you ask for anyone of the above just walk away.

At the end of the day buying online from private sellers is always going to be potentially risky and being able to show or see the goods in person is always going to be the safest option and if you are selling, don’t let the goods go till you have the money.

If you can think of any other good ideas and I am sure I have missed many, email them to me and I will add the great ones to the  list above and credit you.

One Comment

  1. Dewan Demmer July 20, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    Once little note, in regards to EFT’s as you suggest contact the bank and verify that everything has cleared.
    However i would recommend waiting a day or 2 and also do NOT draw the money from that account, because should there a problem with the payment the bank can still remove the funds from your account and if your account is missing the amount paid, the bank will just put you into the negative, and then probably charge you for the pleasure.
    EFT’s really are the safest methods of payment now days but still not without risk.

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