Damn, it’s a scam, and the man said ‘yes ma’am’

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Damn, it’s a scam, and the man said ‘yes ma’am’

A fraudster who fleeced a woman of R12,500 admitted he was scamming people, knowing he couldn’t be traced

Consumer journalist
A Gauteng woman's dreams of a new car for her daughter were dashed when she visited the seller's 'premises' and found they did not exist. This after the seller asked her not to as he was conducting an auction that day.
RED FLAG A Gauteng woman's dreams of a new car for her daughter were dashed when she visited the seller's 'premises' and found they did not exist. This after the seller asked her not to as he was conducting an auction that day.
Image: Supplied

I spoke to a fraudster a few days ago.

Such a polite chap — he called me “ma’am” and cheerfully told me that he’s a crook. “Yes, it is a scam, ma’am,” he said, when I confronted him on the phone. “Sorry, thank you very much.” And that was the end of the conversation.

He goes by the name of Michael, he gives his business name as King Motors and on the invoice he sends his intended victims, he gives a company address in Main Road, Randfontein.

All of that is fictitious, of course. As are the cars he advertises for sale on Facebook’s Marketplace at bargain prices. 

What does exist is his landline number, which is clearly one of the reasons people fall for his scam. Most fraudsters use prepaid cellphones and they discard SIM cards like sweet wrappers. These days, a landline number adds a misleading veneer of respectability and permanence.

One of Michael’s most recent victims is a Gauteng provincial government employee who asked me not to reveal her real name, so I’ll call her Gugu. Her daughter, for whom she wanted to buy a car, showed her Michael’s advert on Facebook’s Marketplace and she called him.

“He said they were running a car auction that day and that if I really wanted the car he’d put it aside for me, if I was prepared to pay him a deposit of R12,500. I agreed and then he asked me for all my details, including my ID number and a copy of my driver’s licence, so he could e-mail me an invoice.

“When it came, it was so professional. I had no doubts about the deal at all,” she said, “especially as at the bottom of the invoice was the promise of a full refund if I didn’t like the car when I saw it.”

Another lie within the lie.

So Gugu did an EFT into Michael’s Capitec bank account and despite him urging her not to visit the business that day, because they’d be busy with that “auction”, she drove to Randfontein anyway.

At the given address she found a motor dealership, but not King Motors, where a security guard told her she’d been scammed. Clearly he does that a lot.

Here’s the thing: Gugu could have seen that there was no King Motors at the address on that smart-looking invoice within a few minutes of receiving it from that Michael character.

Google Maps is very handy indeed: you put the street address into the search field and let technology work its magic. That’s how I got to see what stands at that Randfontein address. There is a motor dealership there and it has a great big sign out front, but it doesn’t read King Motors.

Had Gugu done that Google Maps thing, before paying that R12,500, the money would no doubt still be in her account.

Michael told me that I was right, he is scamming people, because he knows I can’t find him.

As I type this, he’s probably using another business name and another landline, and conning another gullible would-be car-buyer. Yes, there’s the bank account, but it won’t be linked to him. Fraudsters use the accounts of fronts — individuals or small businesses — so they can’t be traced. Covid-19 has accelerated online sales dramatically, but most novice online shoppers haven’t acquired the skills or the suss to do so safely.

Back in the pre-internet days, many who were caught by dodgy appliance repairers and the like would tell me: “But they had such a big, professional-looking advert in the Yellow Pages!”

“Yes,” I used to say, “which they paid for to catch people like you!”

But while the fraudsters now have the most perfect enabler in the internet, it is also their would-be victims’ best protection. So use it!

If a product or service is being offered by a company or person you’ve never heard of before, assume the worst until your investigations prove otherwise. I can’t stress that enough. Assume they are a fraudster, fabricating absolutely everything and only when you’ve discovered otherwise should you even think of paying them.

So no matter how badly you want something you saw advertised on Gumtree, Facebook or Marketplace, take a breath and do the checks first. Complaints website Hellopeter is a good place to start.

One way of reducing your risk of fraud when buying or selling online as an individual is to use an escrow service. It safeguards your funds in a trust until the seller delivers what was promised. And if you’re the seller, your peace of mind comes from knowing that the trade will only start when the buyer has the agreed funds.

There are a few escrow services operating in SA, among them 3PayMe, Paysho and TradeSafe, of which Standard Bank recently purchased a 35% share.

Founder and CEO Jethro O’Brien explains how it works: “The buyer contacts the seller via e-mail about the product for sale. TradeSafe keeps the money in trust when payment takes place and the seller then sends the product to the buyer (via courier) to inspect.

“When the buyer is satisfied, he lets TradeSafe know and payment takes place. Standard Bank has management oversight on the escrow account.”

And what does it cost — a minimum 1,15% transaction fee, increasing on a sliding scale relative to the selling price of the goods.

And it stands to reason that the con artists — those advertising non-existent goods and fraudsters who have no intention of paying for goods — would refuse to go through an escrow service.

“They just don’t respond,” O’Brien said.

And that’s as good as saying: “It’s a scam, ma’am!”

• GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler

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