Buyer beware – be very aware!

Websites that are run like newspaper classifieds should be treated with caution.

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Recently, I was at a livestock auction where a farmer was not happy with the price he was offered for his cow,
and someone in the grandstand shouted: “Sell it on OLX.” Websites such as OLX and Gumtree have become very popular in South Africa. Anyone can place an advertisement for free, and the site generates revenue from the businesses that advertise on its pages.

But buying online from sites such as these can be dangerous, with chancers often scamming unsuspecting buyers, who lose deposits and often do not get what they bargained for. While shopping for a second-hand car recently, I came across an advertisement on OLX. The seller claimed he was in Kroonstad. I phoned him and said I would ask a friend in the area to take a look at the car.

The man said he would not be available before the following Monday, when he was going to auction the car, and needed a deposit. Immediately, I smelt a rat, but played along, asking for an invoice and banking details. The business address supplied with the banking details was false. This was easily checked by using Google maps and typing in the address.

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If genuine, the business will appear on the map with address details. There might even be photographs of the premises in Google Street View.

Seller beware
Apparently, some scam artists avoid detection by paying someone to open a bank account in that person’s name and then give the card to the swindler. They then do the same with a cellphone, paying someone to buy a cellphone and RICA-register the SIM card details. In this way, the scam artist has a bank account and cellphone number that cannot be traced back to him.

But forensic investigators can determine the position of a cellphone with special technology. The cellphone is ‘pinged’; as soon as it receives the message, and its position verified electronically. With the help of a forensic investigator, I located the position of the ‘car seller’ by simply typing this address into Google Maps. It turned out that he lived in Yeoville, Johannesburg, not Kroonstad.