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Safety tips when buying from online classifieds

Last week, a Cape Town man was robbed of R17,000 after meeting with someone who posed as a buyer on Gumtree.

Online shopping. Picture: CC0 Creative Commons.

JOHANNESBURG - Online classifieds are a popular go-to avenue for people looking for goods and services, particularly second-hand items. However, there are many dangers that lurk among the pages of these sites.

An example is a Cape Town man was robbed of R17,000 this past week after meeting with someone who posed as a buyer on Gumtree.

This is not an isolated case as classified scams and robberies have been a growing problem in South Africa in recent years.

Knowing what to avoid and how to remain safe when making transactions or meeting a potential buyer or seller are crucial to avoiding becoming a victim.

Here are a few tips to help you do just that:

THE BASICS

According to Deon du Plessis, tech writer at htxt.africa, the most common mistakes made by buyers and sellers happen when it's time to meet in person.

"A physical exchange has to take place somehow once the sale price has been agreed upon. That means sending the item by courier, taking it to the other person, or having them come to you to collect it. How this happens is often key to maintaining personal security," du Plessis says.

"When selling an item, do not allow people into your home to come and inspect it. This has been the basis for many a ruse in South Africa, in which sellers end up being robbed by the supposed buyers.

"If they don’t agree to your terms, forget them and move on – another buyer will be along shortly. Be suspicious, all the time, of everyone. Don’t trust buyers, don’t trust sellers, do as much homework as you can on anything you intend to buy or sell, and conduct the transaction in as safe an area as you can think of. You can never be too paranoid."

Additionally, here's a list of helpful tips listed on the Gumtree website to guide buyers and sellers.

Never send your item before receiving the money. Do not send the item until confirming that the payment was legitimate, and has cleared, with your bank. Never hand over goods to Uber/Taxify drivers after receiving an EFT notification from a buyer.

Never send or wire money to sellers or buyers. This includes never mailing a cheque or using payment services like Bidpay, eWallet, Western Union or Money Gram to pay for items found on Gumtree.

Please also take special care when buying expensive items such as mobile phones, laptops, plasma TVs, airline tickets and even tickets for shows/gigs. When buying airline tickets we suggest you take the seller's name and ticket number, check the ticket exists and take responsibility yourself for changing the names.

When buying tickets for events please be aware that some tickets may have terms printed on them that limit the ability of the original buyer to sell them to someone else.

Never provide your personal or banking information (e.g. credit card number) to others over the internet.

Make yourself aware of common scams and fraud. Do not believe the promise of large sums of money for your help in any task.

Use common sense. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

When buying a vehicle, take note of the following:

  1. Do not pay any deposit for a vehicle before viewing the vehicle in person.

  2. Check that the VIN matches the number on the owner registration and roadworthy documents.

  3. Check that the VIN number has not been tampered with.

  4. Check that the address supplied by the seller matches the address on the registration and roadworthy documents.

  5. Check the service history of the car.

  6. Check chassis and engine numbers – inconsistencies could indicate that the vehicle has been tampered with.

  7. Make sure there is no outstanding finance on the vehicle you are purchasing

  8. The SAPS or the Metro Police will be able to check whether a vehicle has been stolen and that the VIN/chassis and engine numbers are in accordance with the vehicle’s registration documents. This information is provided free of charge.

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