Gumtree scams: what to watch out for and how to avoid them

Gumtree is hugely popular in South Africa, and receives well over 4 million local visitors each month.

The site offers an array of items for sale, from mobile phones to commercial properties.

It’s popularity makes its users an ideal target for scammers, though, who act as sellers or buyers of goods to cheat people out of money or their possessions.

There are many cases of Gumtree users being scammed – from selling laptops to buyers who don’t pay, to paying deposits to rent houses which are not available.

Gumtree offers advice on how to not become a scam victim, as detailed below.

The scams you must watch out for

Pet shipping scams

A seller will claim to have a pet and will offer to ship them from an overseas location. These are usually sought-after dog breeds such as English Bulldogs, Yorkshire Terriers, and Chihuahuas.

“These ads are usually accompanied by staged pictures. The pets don’t exist and the fraudsters try to get you to pay money upfront,” said Gumtree.

“Remember, be wary of overseas sellers.”

Payment for import duties scam

A seller claims there are brokerage fees, import duties, or other fees required to get an item into the country.

“Do not pay such fees, as you will most often never get the product. Gumtree is designed for local, face-to-face trading.”

I overpaid you scam

A buyer or seller will send you a cheque worth more than the value of the items for sale, and ask for the surplus money to be returned to them.

“The cheque will clear into your bank, only to be stopped at a later date. Not only will you have lost the goods, you will be out of pocket for the amount you passed on as the difference.”

Gumtree said if you receive an overpayment cheque or money order, return it to the sender and ask for the correct amount.

Fake escrow sites

A buyer, seller, or prospective tenant/landlord suggests using an escrow service to complete a transaction.

“Often these escrow websites are run by fraudsters, even though they may look official, and they will take your money.

Property rental scams

Gumtree scammers will take photos of a property which they have no control over and advertise the location as available to rent.

“Before you commit to a booking, ask for additional photos and use Google Street View to check the address that’s advertised with the property.”

Another sign is that the price seems too low, particularly for peak-season holiday accommodation. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Also confirm who owns the property – the local municipality can assist you with this.


How to stay safe when using Gumtree

Gumtree provided the following tips for staying safe when using its service.

  • Only transact face to face on Gumtree – meet in-person to see the item and exchange money.
  • If you can’t meet in-person, use Sheperd –  Shepherd is a third-party service by Standard Bank which receives, holds, and releases funds online.
  • Never send your item before receiving the money.
  • Never send or wire money to sellers or buyers.
  • Never provide your personal or banking information to anyone online.
  • View advertised properties in person.

What to do if you have been scammed or see a scam

If you see an ad on Gumtree that you suspect is a scam, you can click on “Report this Ad” on the top-right of the ad’s page.

You can also contact Gumtree via it’s Contact Us section.

If you have been scammed, contact Gumtree and report the matter to the police – getting the SAPS to contact Gumtree via the law enforcement inquiry option in the contact section.

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Gumtree scams: what to watch out for and how to avoid them