A widespread scam is targeting prospective buyers on major classifieds sites pretending to sell high value items.
Claire Cobbledick, head of Gumtree South Africa marketing, says that their customer service desk has received numerous enquiries asking to validate Gumtree holding accounts and invoices – even from users who responded to ads on competitor sites.
“We have to be 100% clear that Gumtree does not and will not “hold” money on behalf of our buyers or sellers. Sales on the site are concluded directly between the buyer and the seller or through our endorsed safe transacting partners, Shepherd and Motofinn. Neither Gumtree nor Shepherd or Motofinn will ever ask a buyer to deposit funds into a PayPal or Western Union account. Similarly, Gumtree does not facilitate transactions between buyers and sellers on OLX or JunkMail, as these scammers purport. The companies operate wholly independently from one another.”
The modus operandi of the scam is straightforward. The scammers place adverts for high value items (particularly cars or caravans) on a classified site. Once an interested buyer replies, they received a response from the seller who claims that he is currently not in the country but would like to use a third party to facilitate the transaction. (The buyer will also include links to YouTube videos of supposed documentaries he was contracted to film in South Africa before returning to the UK) .The “seller” also requests a name, address, phone number and copy of the buyer’s passport to supposedly register them on the site. They also claim that a 14 days refund policy will be applicable. A UK phone number is provided for queries.
“Shortly after the interested buyer provides more information, they receive a fake invoice from Gumtree (typically from a safrica.com domain), usually with a scanned copy of an ID or passport attached and the word “Verified ID” printed on the page. The buyer is also urged to send a query to Gumtree’s customer services to verify the sale. None of the e-mail addresses belong to Gumtree or any of our affiliates,” Cobbledick explains. “The scanned IDs and passports may have been obtained through the fake ‘registration’ process, although we can’t be certain.”
The safest way to transact on Gumtree is to use the Shepherd or Motofinn service by visiting their respective web sites.
While Shepherd does not facilitate car sales, Motofinn has been a trusted name in the industry for several years. “It’s very simple. The buyer completes and submits an application online, manually or by fax, after which he or she will be contacted by a consultant in two hours,” says Cobbledick. “The consultant can apply for financing and advise on supporting documents required. The buyer will supply the details of the seller, which Motofinn will validate by obtaining all the necessary documentation, including an HPI check with TransUnion that will confirm the manufacturer, VIN number, engine number, finance history and accident history, as well as other necessary checks.”
Only once both parties are satisfied will a fee be charged and the vehicle sent for a DEKRA roadworthy test, inspection report and colour photos. Good Fellas, a chauffeur service operating in major centres, will collect and drive the vehicle to the closest testing center and back. Information is then relayed to both parties and the final sales agreement is drafted by Motofinn. “The buyer and seller then meet at Motofinn’s offices to finalise the contract and payment and complete the transfer of ownership.”
Shepherd, an escrow service powered by Standard Bank, can be used to facilitate deals for smaller items, such as electronics or jewelry or more recently, bicycles.” Either the buyer or seller can request dealing through Shepherd. After the seller initiates the transaction, the buyer makes a payment into a secure trust account. Shepherd secures the funds until the buyer receives the item and accepts it and facilitates the delivery through Ram couriers.  The buyer simply signs the courier waybill, after inspection, to accept the delivery if she is satisfied with the item.  Shepherd then releases the funds to the buyer. If the buyer isn’t satisfied, the item is returned to the seller and the buyer’s payment refunded.”
Cobbledick says that if anyone is unsure about an e-mail received, they should get in touch with the relevant party immediately. “If someone requests that a deal be completed through Shepherd or Motofinn, get in touch with the company in question directly or get in touch with Gumtree’s customer service to assist.  Their details can be found on the site. Never pay money into a third party account until you are certain of the validity thereof. And never pay a deposit until you have viewed the car and confirmed ownership and clearance. If the seller insists, walk away. “