Tips on understanding fraud in Classifieds

The growing popularity of online classified ads means that the number of criminals looking for easy targets is also increasing. You won’t always recognise scam artists, they may not have strange accents or bad grammar, these days they come from all walks of life. Read the following tips on understanding  fraud in Classifieds

Scammers have become more sophisticated and convincing, which means that buyers and sellers need to be even more vigilant, particularly about the risks involved, so that they can do transactions safely and successfully.

Scammers sift through all categories with trailers and caravans being seasonal items that scammers play on.  Cars, tractors and cameras are the latest targets for scammers, who are often experts at playing on the trusting nature of South Africans.

Knowles says that “online buyers and sellers of classifieds platforms should be realistic and think rationally and remember the old wise saying, “If something seems too good to be true it probably is.”

Scam Tactics

Knowles states that a usual tactic with scammers is to con many unsuspecting individuals, often by getting them to pay a deposit to ‘secure their purchase’, or a free item and then the consumer additionally pays the posting and shipping costs. Scammers then collect many of these smaller amounts from unsuspecting consumers.

“Never give a deposit on goods,” says Knowles. “Only pay cash for goods you have checked in person. If a person insists on a deposit to keep the goods before you’ve had the chance to see them, walk away from the deal – no exceptions.”

Knowles points out, that users also need to be aware that scammers often use real cell phone numbers and have conversations via popular cell phone messaging apps to gain confidence.

“They are clever and convincing. They also use bank accounts that actually do exist but as soon as the money is deposited, the account is quickly closed.”

Knowles also warns that it is not always the seller, who is the scam artist and that more advertisers are being conned by fraudulent buyers.

“They even send fake SMS messages impersonating the bank, to convince sellers that the cash has been received,” Knowles says.

 “In this case it is  advised that we do  the same with cheque payments – first make sure that the money has cleared in your account (this usually takes up to seven working days), before you release the goods.”

Follow a few rules

Knowles states that buyers can protect themselves against scams, when doing the payment exchange by following some simple rules:

  • Check the physical address that you have been given to collect the goods from, have a look on Google maps to see if the address actually exists.
  • Call the bank when receiving a payment confirmation via SMS and ask them to confirm that the transaction is legitimate and that the money has cleared; FNB and Nedbank have a verification process.
  • Research via the Internet to see if there are any fraudulent reports. There are some very useful websites you can go to;
  • Don’t carry large sums of cash when going to meet a seller. If you are buying a big-ticket item, rather go with the seller to the bank and draw money or do an electronic fund transfer (EFT) once you have both agreed to the sale.
  • Whether you are the buyer or the seller, always arrange to meet the other party in person, in a public place.
  • If you are buying an item that carries some kind of ownership or authenticity certificate, such as a car or a diamond ring, make sure that you get the certificate at the same time as the item itself. Never allow the seller to persuade you with promises of sending it to you later.

Don’t Be a Victim of a Scam:

  • Look out for the odd use of language in ads as well as the “perfect” advert and the over use of terminology for the category (vaccinations, registration, micro-chipped)
  • Make sure the photograph and the description of the item are the same. Some scammers use pictures they find online because they don’t actually have the item they are advertising; or they offer a picture but the description is about something else.
  • If possible, verify the identity of the seller or buyer. Get a copy of the person’s ID and if  it is from the seller, have a look at the picture on the id and verify the ID number through a site like
  • If you are searching for jobs, look out for strange requests regarding meeting places and instructions to secure the position (such as a registration fee) – if anything doesn’t sound right it is probably not. Large companies use an official email address when recruiting and will schedule interviews at their office.
  • When looking for a pet, ensure that you know a bit about the breed and do not be fooled by the confirmation of registration with any organization such as vaccinations or chipping.

Fraud is a business for many and fraudsters will try to convince you of their trustworthiness and will sometimes play on your emotions to make you believe them.

Sharon Knowles is the Operational head for a local classifieds site in South Africa. She can be found on twitter @sharonknowles or @ask-sharon, here she will answer any questions you might have on classifieds.