Online shopping scam tactics

Industry expert Bronwyn Johnson, head of marketing at OLX South Africa, warned that the growing popularity of online shopping means that the number of criminals looking for easy targets is also increasing.

“You won’t always recognise scam artists by their strange accents or obvious disguises,” she warned. “Scammers have become more sophisticated and convincing, which means that buyers and sellers need to be vigilant about the risks so that they can transact safely and successfully.”

Scammers used to limit their scams to people interested in electronics and animals; but Johnson says that they are now moving to other categories as well.

“Trailers and farming equipment are the latest targets for scammers who are experts at playing on the trusting nature of South Africans,” she said.

Johnson said that online buyers and sellers should be realistic and think logically and remember the old adage, “If something seems too good to be true it probably is.”

Scam Tactics

Johnson said that a favourite tactic with scammers is to con many unsuspecting individuals by getting them to pay a deposit to ‘secure their purchase’ or a ‘courier bill’ and then they collect many of these smaller amounts from unsuspecting individuals.

“Never give a deposit on goods,” said Johnson. “Only pay cash for goods you have checked in person. If a person insists on a deposit to keep the goods before you’ve had the chance to see them, walk away from the deal – no exceptions.”

She pointed out that users also need to be aware that often scammers use real cell phone numbers and have conversations via cell phone messaging apps.

“They are clever and convincing. They also use bank accounts that actually do exist but as soon as the money is deposited, the account is closed.”

She also warns that, it is not always the seller who is the scam artist and that more advertisers are being conned by fraudulent buyers.

“They even send fake SMS messages impersonating the bank, to convince sellers that the cash has been received,” she said.

“In this case we advise the same that we do with cheque payments – first make sure that the money has cleared in your account (this usually takes up to seven working days), before you release the goods.”

Payments – Follow Seven Simple Rules

Johnson said that buyers can protect themselves against scams when doing the payment exchange by following some simple rules including:

  • If the scammer gives you a physical address to collect the goods from, have a look on Google maps to see if the address actually exists;
  • Call the bank when receiving a payment confirmation via SMS and ask them to confirm that the transaction is legitimate and that the money has cleared;
  • Research via the Internet to see if there are any fraudulent reports. There are some very useful websites you can go to including;,; and
  • Don’t carry large sums of cash when going to meet a seller. If you are buying a big-ticket item, rather go with the seller to the bank and draw money or do an electronic fund transfer (EFT) once you have both agreed to the sale.
  • Whether you are the buyer or the seller, always arrange to meet the other party in person, in a public place. Don’t invite strangers into your home; they know that you are likely to be carrying a large amount of cash.
  • If you are buying an item that carries some kind of ownership or authenticity certificate such as a car or a diamond ring, make sure that you get the certificate at the same time as the item itself. Never allow the seller to persuade you with promises of sending it to you later.
  • Only make purchases on secure websites: Look for a valid certificate such as VeriSign and use a secure payment system such as PayU. You will also note that when it comes to adding your private payment information the http:// in the address bar will change to https:// when the site has the required security in place.

Don’t Be a Victim of a Scam:

  • Look out for the odd use of language in ads – (syntax, grammar, phrases and selling may look odd). This is not an indication of fraud by itself, but when added to other signs of fraud, might give you reason to be suspicious.
  • Make sure the photograph and the description of the item are the same. Some scammers use pictures they find online because they don’t actually have the item they are advertising; or they offer a picture but the description is about something else.
  • If possible, verify the identity of the Seller or Buyer. Get a copy of the person’s ID and if you are buying a cell phone or another high-risk product, get proof of purchase (the original box the item came in and the receipt of purchase) from the seller so that you don’t experience any trouble further down the line.
  • If you are searching for jobs look out for strange requests regarding meeting places and instructions to secure the position (such as a registration fee) – if anything doesn’t sound right it is probably not;
  • Fraudsters will try to convince you of their trustworthiness and will sometimes play on your emotions and a need to make you believe them. You can usually spot this when they give you too many details that have nothing to do with the sale. Sometimes they pretend to be religious leaders or charity workers to elicit your trust;
  • Be careful when buying an animal online: If the animal is advertised as a pure breed, ask to see the licensing information of the pet and ask for proof that the advertiser is a legitimate breeder. Also ask to see proof that the pet has had the correct vaccinations.

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Online shopping scam tactics