Don’t get ripped off online!

Tips on how to buy and sell safely through Internet classifieds.

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As mentioned in my last blog, www.olx.co.za and www.gumtree.co.za are popular websites where you can place advertisements free of charge. Gumtree was acquired by Ebay in 2005, while OLX is based in Cape Town. Both sites are easy to use. You click on a link, follow a few simple steps, and your ad can be online in minutes. However, as we also saw last week, this kind of ‘self-service’ site, which operates like a newspaper’s classifieds, attracts its fair share of crooks.

As OLX is based in South Africa, you are likely to get more joy from OLX should you encounter problems. To report a scam, email [email protected] co. za or call 021 468 8216. Speaking to Farmer’s Weekly, OLX’s Stephen Ballot said that the company would “soon have a call centre with trained agents to help users”. He added, however, that it was difficult to predict feedback times, as the company might report the case to the SAPS.

Keeping a check

All advertisements are screened by customer service representatives before going live. “An example is how we found out a puppy mill was advertising on OLX,” explained Ballot. “We reacted immediately, removing 70-odd ads from that source and opening a docket at the SAPS.”

Staying safe
Ballot had the following tips for buyers and sellers:

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  • If you’re a buyer, don’t deposit any money before you’ve seen the item.
  • If you’re a seller, make sure the money is in your bank account before parting with the item.
  • If it looks too good to be true, it usually is.
  • If you’re buying or selling a vehicle, meet in a public place, and bring someone with you. A petrol station is a sensible option, as there are people present and forecourts have CCTV cameras; the footage can be accessed later if there are any problems.

This aside, I believe that websites such as OLX and Gumtree have a duty to protect their users. For example, software can be used to compare the price of a vehicle for sale with its book value, and if the advertised price is suspiciously low – suggesting the vehicle may be stolen or may not even exist – the software can flag the advertisement and check other ads placed by the same user.