'Don't be scared of online classifieds'

2014-05-12 13:00 - Duncan Alfreds
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South African should be more aware of online classifieds scams. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Many South Africans prefer not to trade online because of fears that criminals may take advantage of them, but there are fewer scams than the headlines would suggest, says an online classifieds platform.

"Reputable classifieds offer goods at significantly lower prices than retail value, localised services, and a huge variety of items generated by an active community, such as rentals, jobs, cars and household goods," said Claire Cobbledick of Gumtree South Africa.

However, a number of people prefer to browse online but trade in person in effort to limit the risk that an online criminals may make off with goods, but not part with cash.

People are also concerned that online traders may use the goods for sale as "bait" and attempt to extract money in the form of deposits or transportation costs in order to fleece buyers.

Gumtree, owned by e-commerce giant eBay, says that only about 30 complaints per month are logged versus over 30 000 ads posted per minute.

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The site insists that it works closely with South African police to report criminal activity and actively monitors the platform to ensure that criminals are kept from the site.

"We also collaborate with numerous government and industry partners to share best practices, support investigations and help raise public awareness of online safety," said Cobbledick.

For users new to online trading some simple steps can go a long way to limiting the ability of fraudsters to practice their craft.

- Meet in public places to finalise transactions. Criminals are not likely to try and steal products if they are at a police station, for example.

- Demand identity and verifiable addresses for high value purchases or if you intend to bring someone into your home. A utility bill can easily serve as a way to verify the person and address.

- Regardless of whether you are buying or selling online, it is not advisable to give out financial information such as your credit card number or bank PIN.

- When buying high value items through a classifieds site, ensure that paperwork is in order and don't accept copies of documentation: Insist on originals or simply walk away from the transaction.

- Always alert someone you trust about your whereabouts when you intend to meet someone in person to conclude a transaction.

Gumtree employs a local team to monitor the platform and Cobbledick said that safety was paramount.

"Aggressive combating of online scams, combined with our ongoing efforts to educate and alert users will make it even safer to transact online."


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