‘Don’t be duped! How I spotted fake messages and avoided a scam on Gumtree’

Apr 20, 2020
Would you know a fake email or scam if it landed in your inbox? Source: Getty Images

Most people these days are aware that the world is full of others wishing to relieve them of their money through fraudulent means. However, many people are still gullible and scammers fleece hundreds of millions of dollars annually using numerous methods including dating scams, fake internet sites, donation requests and subscriptions. I recently came across a popular Gumtree scam and felt it important to share so that others can avoid a similar situation.

Gumtree is a website that allows people to buy and sell products and services. It is related to eBay, which I expect many of you have heard of (if you haven’t heard of Gumtree). Although I write about Gumtree, the scam detailed below can be perpetrated on any public buying and selling website.

Here’s a chronology of the scam based on my experience:

I advertised a Horn Cabinet on Gumtree and no sooner had the advert appeared than I received an email via Gumtree from a person saying she was interested and could I give her my email address. Although surprised at how quickly the cabinet had caught someone’s attention, I sent a polite note advising my email address.

Hours later I received this email message from a person calling by the name of ‘Theresa Benson’:

Thanks a lot for the email. I work with Flagship Marine and we are presently offshore in New Zealand. We do not have access to phone at the moment, its five days off and 25 days on, which is why I contacted you with internet messaging facility. Where are you located at the moment?

I am buying it and I want it delivered before my arrival. I won’t be able to come for the inspection due to the nature of my work and I would have called but phone usage and calling are very restricted. I have also contacted a courier agent who will meet you for pick-up and delivery after payment has been cleared. Regarding the payment, please get back to me with your final asking price, I can transfer money through secure online bank transfer, you can alternatively send your BSB and account number, payment can also go through PayPal, if you don’t have, you can set up at www.paypal.com

Kindly get back to me with the following questions below:

  • Account name
  • Account number
  • BSB

Are you the owner? Pick up location? What is the final price?

That all sounds pretty normal, right? You could fall for this part and send your details.

What happens next is that the unsuspecting seller (me), delighted to get such a quick response to my item for sale, sends full details to the buyer. Then this email arrives:

Thanks for the payment details and am happy to proceed with the payment, however I just got a confirmation mail from the shipping agent now that I will need to pay for the freighting fees before they can schedule pre-shipping/pick-up date. They charged $1,050 for the pick-up and delivery, but the problem is they only accept Skrill money transfer as form of payment, which is sent to their HQ.

I need a credit or debit card to personally take care of that but I didn’t bring it along as I am currently on duty and had thought there would be no need for bringing it along.

As you are well aware of, due to the nature of my work am away and do not have access to Skrill, most store (sic) have Skrill section and you can also send it online at www.Skrill.com.au.

Will it be okay with you if I add the $1,050 to the amount I am transferring? and you can help me make the Skrill transfer of the freighting fees through Skrill money transfer? You are not obliged to help me, but I will indeed appreciate your help as I am a little incapacitated here.

The first thing that occurs to me is why would anyone spend $1,050 to freight something worth $295? Does that sound rational to you?

I agreed to the transaction via email to receive two documents, both of which ended up in my spam folder relating to the transfer. It’s too lengthy to reproduce all here, but here is a clip from it, purportedly from Paypal.

We hereby want to assure you once again that the total sum of $1,450 AUD will be credited into your Westpac Banking Corporation account as soon as you provide us with the complete details of the Skrill money transfer used to send the additional fund of $1,050 AUD meant for the pick-up agent fee. We also want you to know the money has already been deducted from the buyer’s account and it cannot be returned back to her which means that it is secure with us but has been put on hold and will not be credited into your Westpac Banking Corporation account until we receive the necessary details from you.

The writer provided details of an account in the Philippines to which I was to wire the $1,050.

How anyone can fall for such an obvious attempt at fraud, is anyone’s guess. But remember, in 2019 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch advised that Australians under 25 years lost $5 million and $28.6 million was lost by all ages in relationship scams.

The message for all of us is to be suspicious of any online transaction and make sure we don’t finish up victims.

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Have you ever been a victim of an online scam? Would you know how to spot a scam online?

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