14 September 2018

    Chana Boucher

    How to safely sell your goods online

    Before you post an internet ad for your goods, make sure you’ve taken steps to protect yourself from cybercriminals.

    The online marketplace has become the most popular way for people to sell items they no longer need. If you’ve done a little spring cleaning or you’re looking for ways to earn some extra cash before the holiday season arrives, you might be thinking about selling your goods online. 

    Unfortunately, as the marketplace grows, so too does the risk. There have been a number of circumstances where sellers were taken for a ride, or worse, became the victims of violent crime. Don’t let that happen to you.

    Estelle Nagel, Head of Communications for Gumtree (which became the most popular website in South Africa this April), says: 'Six million transactions happen on Gumtree every single day without incident – but it is important to always read the safety tips before transacting and err on the side of caution.'

    The most common scam for sellers, says Estelle, is fake payment. A 'buyer' expresses interest in a high-value item and sends the seller a fake proof of payment. Once they receive the item, they disappear. 'Cash is the safest option, but carrying large amounts can be a hazard. If you do accept payment via EFT, make sure the funds have cleared in your account before handing over the goods. Never accept a proof of payment SMS or email as proof that the payment was done because this can be faked.' She adds that you should check with your bank whether the funds were deposited and cleared as scammers sometimes make cheque deposits and cancel the cheques once they receive the item, which could be before the cheque clears. Estelle also advises to never accept Western Union or PayPal transfers.

    Too close to home

    Another concern might be around posting personal information that complete strangers have access to. But Estelle says how much information you divulge is your choice. 'You can opt not to include your phone number or physical address, and your emails will be masked by us so that a buyer can’t contact you directly,' she explains. She adds that it is very difficult for Gumtree to detect fraudulent activities if users move the conversation onto an external platform such as WhatsApp or social media. Gumtree urges customers to use its site for communication and avoid sharing personal details where possible.

    Earlier this year, media reported that a Mitchell’s Plain man was robbed at gunpoint by men who had responded to his Gumtree ad, which he had placed to sell his car. They made off with a large sum of cash after forcing him to draw money from an ATM, leaving him with his car. Estelle advises that sellers meet with potential buyers in a neutral, public place such as a restaurant or police station to exchange the goods and money. 'If you do meet at your home, ensure there is a friend with you,' she says.

    More safety tips

    Other ways to reduce the risk, according to Gumtree’s website, include:

    • Don’t be rushed. If the buyer is putting pressure on you, be suspicious. Rather let a deal go than be pushed into a scam.
    • Use an escrow service, a third party who will hold and regulate payment of the funds. B3S and Shepherd are partners of Gumtree and facilitate transactions by holding onto the buyer’s money until the goods are delivered in order, at which time the seller will receive it.
    • Stay up to date. Keep track of all the latest scams in the marketplace via the media and the Gumtree blog.

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    Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash


    Chana Boucher