Watch out for online scams, warn police

Police have warned the public against online scams.

Several Fish Hoek residents have fallen prey to online scams in recent weeks, say police.

Fish Hoek police spokesman, Warrant Officer Peter Middelton, says about five to 10 cases are reported a week.

According to him, the most common cons are online puppy sales, online loan applications and people claiming to be bank officials. Problems also arise, he says, when people buy things through Gumtree or Facebook’s Marketplace. Phoney advertisers of puppies ask the potential buyer for a deposit, the full cost of a special crate to courier the puppy and sometimes also vaccination fees.

A “courier company” then calls saying the puppy is ready for delivery but the courier fees haven’t been paid.

Warrant Officer Middelton says most times people agree to pay the courier fees as they are excited to get their new puppy.

With dodgy online loan applications, applicants are sent an SMS reference number confirming their application before being asked to pay a processing or admin fee. More fees follow.

“People applying for a loan of R30 000 end up paying up to R3 000 before they realise they have been scammed,” Warrant Officer Middelton says.

People buying clothing and second-hand goods online are also at risk. Buyers are asked to pay for items and delivery costs upfront and end up never seeing the items.

“If you can’t see it and touch it or go and view it personally, don’t pay for it.”

In other cases, people get a call from someone posing as a bank employee and offering to help them stop a suspicious transaction on their cards. The “bank employee” asks to download software giving them access to the victim’s computer. They say they can only temporarily stop the transaction and the victim must go to their bank as soon as possible to report it. While the victim is away, the con artist accesses the computer and cleans out the account.

Gumtree SA spokeswoman, Estelle Nagel, cautions against paying for something unless you have viewed it.

If you are buying an electronic device, she says it is best to turn it on and check it works before paying. If a deal is too good to be true, it usually is, she warns.

Scammers, she says, will often create a false sense of urgency by saying you have to pay a deposit or the full amount or you’ll lose out.

Meet in a safe, public place and always let someone know where you will be doing the transaction, she says.

All communication between the buyer and seller should be done through the site as other forms of communication such as WhatsApp make it harder to trace illegal activity.

Suspect activity can be reported to help@gumtree.co.za or by filling in a contact form on help.gumtree.co.za

She also urges people who have fallen prey to scams to report it to the police.

To see how scammers selling puppies operate, click here.