Google launched its Woza Online platform in January 2012 – an initiative to bring small and medium businesses (SME) online in South Africa. Fraudsters are now using the platform for fraudulent activities, including online scams and harvesting credit card details.
Woza Online makes it possible for businesses to create their own websites and develop an online presence for free.
Unfortunately fraudsters are now abusing the free platform to impersonate legitimate retailers, scam unsuspecting consumers, and harvest credit card details.
MyBroadband received spam e-mails offering high end smartphones like the iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c and Samsung Galaxy S4 at far below retail rates.
These e-mails look similar to international scams, which offer consumers high end devices at very low prices. The company websites for these offers are hosted on Woza Online.
“We have been in contact with Google SA, Google Intl, DTI and none of the parties involved feel responsible or accountable,” said Naschenweng.
“Despite having reported several Woza sites a few weeks and months back, those sites continue to operate.”
Bidorbuy warned their customers against these scams (see the news alert below):
We have received a number of reports from sellers that store-pages on wozaonline.co.za impersonate sellers on Bidorbuy.
As an example, the following two Woza Online stores link to Bidorbuy sellers (http://electronics4less.wozaonline.co.za/ and http://camerahouse.wozaonline.co.za/home) and try to convince people to purchase goods via Woza Online.
The Woza Online stores link to Bidorbuy sellers to promote that the store is credible and safe (note that the operator of the Woza Online store IS NOT the Bidorbuy user linked to) .
We have approached Google and informed them about the various scammers, but Google is refusing to look at the issues without having a court order or receiving an official complaint from the actual, legitimate Bidorbuy user.
As much as we like to assist the sellers affected, we require you to do the following (as we cannot act on your behalf):
For example, if you are the user camerhouse and this (http://camerahouse.wozaonline.co.za/home) is not your website on Wozaonline, scroll to the bottom and click on the “Report Abuse” button.
Also send a complaint to Google via the following email: [email protected]
Derek Smythe from Artists Against 419 highlighted that there are numerous scams which use Woza Online for their website needs, including the infamous “black money scams”.
Smythe said that a Google search for “ssd solution site:wozaonline.co.za” returns many results, yet “ssd solution is not something that exists and is squarely in the realm of 419 fraud”.
He added that the Woza Online platform is also used to scam superstitious people through Sangoma scams.
Curiously, Smythe highlighted, should a business owner wish to take on Google in the courts for damages, they would have to go to the UK courts.
Woza Online terms and conditions – point 13
Governing Law: These terms and conditions are governed by English law and the parties submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts in relation to any dispute concerning these terms of service save that either party may apply to any court for an injunction or other relief to protect its Intellectual Property Rights.
“At best locally they can just have something taken down via a court order. Which small business can afford that?” asked Smythe.
Woza Online partners respond
Google South Africa said that anyone can use the ‘Report abuse’ button at the bottom of every Woza Online website to complain and they will investigate.
“If a site breaks any of our policies, we will take it down. For legal reasons it is very important that we receive a fraud complaint from the owner of the site being defrauded. This is the same in the offline world,” said Google SA spokesperson Julie Taylor.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which is a headline partner in Woza Online, said that they are not aware of Woza Online.
“The DTI is not aware of this Woza Online,” said the DTI’s chief director media liaison Sidwell Moloantoa Medupe.
He suggested that complaints about the scammers on Woza Online are referred to the National Credit Regulator (NCR) CEO Nomsa Motshegare.