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How not to sell your TV, flooded roads & fake websites: Wendy Knowler’s 'watch-outs of the week'

11 February 2022 - 16:34
If advertising goods for sale on free online classifieds sites such as Gumtree, know how to tell a genuine buyer from a scammer.
If advertising goods for sale on free online classifieds sites such as Gumtree, know how to tell a genuine buyer from a scammer.
Image: 123RF/Marco Ciannarel

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:

How not to sell your TV

On Thursday, Thato advertised his TV for sale on Gumtree. There’s nothing wrong with that, provided you know how to tell a genuine buyer from a scammer who wants your stuff but doesn’t want to pay for it. The buyer scam is rife on free online classifieds sites such as Gumtree.

In Thato’s case, a man calling himself “Mark A” responded to his advert and was willing to pay the asking price of R5,500.

“So I sent him my details, and later he sent me an SMS proof of payment,” Thato told me. “He then sent an Uber driver to pick up the TV. I did not receive my money, so that proof of payment must have been fake.”

I managed to track down the driver who picked up the TV. He is an honest guy who promised to take me to “Mark A”. He’s contemplating asking a SAPS member to accompany him, but fraudsters are very good at covering their tracks so I suspect whoever they find at the drop-off address in Milnerton, Cape Town, will know nothing about any TV purchase, and their IDs won’t match that of Mark A.

According to Gumtree MD Claire Cobbledick, scammers posing as genuine buyers take the sellers off the platform and onto WhatsApp, so that’s the first red flag.

“We do not advise taking communication off our platform,” she said. “This may not prevent a scam from happening, but it does help us track down the perpetrator.”

Also, never trust a proof of payment SMS. Always wait for the money to reflect in your bank account before releasing the goods, no matter how much pressure the “buyer” puts on you.

And don’t accept any form of anonymous payment services such as Bidpay, eWallet, Western Union, PayPal or Money Gram.

Beware the fake website

To improve her credit score before applying for a home loan, Refiloe Mochochocko of Morningside contacted all her credit providers to request a settlement balance, with a view to settling her debts with her savings. That’s an excellent goal. But she made a very expensive mistake in the case of credit management company RCS.

She had a balance of R38,000 with DionWired, and she wanted to ask RCS if they’d consider reducing that amount if she settled in full. But instead of searching for her RCS statement in her email inbox, and getting the company’s contact details from it, she typed the letters “RCS” into a Google search. And that’s how she landed on the website of a scam website — “RCS Finance Group”.

When she called the number provided, “Cherie” happily discounted her balance owing to R26,000 and then provided details of the bank account into which the money was to be paid. It was the personal account of a “collecting agent”, Cherie told her, and sadly that didn’t ring alarm bells for Refiloe. When she realised her mistake, Cherie went through the motions of being willing to refund the money, but that never happened, of course.

I turned to the CEO of RCS, Regan Adams, asking if he knew about the opportunistic website, and whether, under the circumstances, the real RCS would be willing to reduce Mochochocko’s R38,000 debt somewhat.

Happily, Adams agreed to reduce her debt by 20%. He also had the site in question taken down.

The lesson: be very careful how you source your information when you need to make a payment, such as settling a debt or paying for holiday accommodation. Doing a Google search without double-checking the authenticity of the site is akin to diving into shark-infested waters.

Before you drive through that pool of water ...

This week Gauteng-based driver training organisation MasterDrive issued a warning about driving on flooded roads. CEO Eugene Herbert advised motorists to turn on their car’s headlights when driving in a heavy downpour, to slow down to avoid aquaplaning and to increase following distance.

Also, he said, ignore the instinct to hit the brakes if you start to skid; rather just keep steering in the direction you want to go, without making any harsh adjustments. And if you come across a pool of water, don’t just blindly drive through it, hoping it will be OK. If it looks as if the water will come up to the middle of your tyres or higher, do not proceed, Herbert says. If you do think the puddle is drivable, stick to the middle of the road if you can — that’s where the water is at its lowest.

And never drive through fast-flowing water because it’s very difficult to judge its depth. We’ve all seen those videos of the drivers who got it wrong.

This is potentially life-saving advice, but it’s also worth noting to avoid your insurer repudiating your hefty claim on the grounds that your decision to drive through that body of water was irresponsible. I’ve come across many of those cases.

“If you are caught in fast-flowing water unexpectedly,” Herbert says, “drive slowly and steadily through while in first or second gear. Once you are through the water, lightly touch your brakes a few times to dry them off. And if you stall, and you are not in danger of being swept away, do not restart your car. Rather get a mechanic to check that no water has made its way into the engine.”

CONTACT WENDY: E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za; Twitter: @wendyknowler; Facebook: wendyknowlerconsumer

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