The oldest scam in the book


I thought I would share an experience I had in the past day when I am almost certain a buyer tried to scam me. I placed a classified advert on bidorbuy for two jet skis I am selling (sold today). As an experiment I also placed the ad in various other classified publications.

I was quite pleased to see the first few responses come from my advert on bidorbuy. My advertised price was R90k and I fairly quickly received an offer of R85k from a legitimate buyer that went to see the skis. While considering this offer, I had some one call me (from one of the other publications I advertised in). This person said they were from Secunda and would definitely take the skis (sight unseen). I told him I already had an offer for R85k. He said no problem he would pay R88k. Although a little surprised that some one would make that kind of commitment without even seeing the skis our discussion proceeded.

He said he needed the skis urgently (i.e. today – a Friday as he was taking them to Namibia leaving on Saturday) and he would send his driver to fetch them today. I said no problem I would meet with his driver but he would need to pay the money into my bank account before I would let them go. His response was he would send a bank guaranteed cheque with his driver.

I insisted that he rather do an EFT into my bank account. He asked who I bank with to which I responded Nedbank. He said he banked with Absa and FNB. Understanding that if you do a transfer from the same bank to the same bank the amount reflects immediately, I said he could make payment into my ABSA account. He replied saying today he is only banking with FNB. Fortunately I have access to a number of bank accounts so I said in that case he could pay into my FNB account. After a bit of an argument about why I would not accept a bank guaranteed cheque he said he would call me back in half an hour. Of course I never heard from him again.

Laying out the facts like I have above makes it a bit more obvious that I was most likely dealing with a fraudster but I can see how people can get caught out. Typically what fraudsters do operating in this manner is they would fabricate a fake (but virtually undetectable to the average person) bank guaranteed cheque (easily enough done now days with a computer and a colour laser printer). They will then get delayed for some seemingly legitimate reason arriving to pick up the goods after the banks have closed (note that some banks you can call to verify cheques up until 5pm even after their branches have closed). They are generally very convincing so the seller may allow the fraudster to leave with the goods with the unsuspecting seller only finding out much later that they have been duped by a fake cheque.

Analysing the situation afterwards the classic warning signs were:

  1. Insisting to pay by “bank guaranteed” cheque.
  2. Being in a hurry.
  3. Sending a driver
  4. Agreeing to make a large purchase sight unseen

As a seller the safest way to accept payment is by EFT i.e. seeing the money reflect on your bank statement before delivering the goods to the buyer. The one thing to look out for is if the payer deposits a cheque (a bad cheque). It will show up on your statement but the current and available balance will be different by the amount of the cheque until it has cleared. Only ship the goods once the amount has cleared (what are people doing still paying by cheque these days anyway).