When it comes to buying a car, a house or a pet, consumers in Ghana are more empowered than ever before. Thanks largely to the high levels of Internet penetration and the emergence of online classified platforms who provide buyers with detailed car, property and other commodity listings.
One platform that consumers in Ghana are increasingly turning to is online classifieds website Tonaton.com. There are many advantages of using this website to purchase one’s car or rent an apartment and the most notable one is cutting out middlemen or agents.
Unfortunately, this has also given scammers a new avenue to find victims who are looking for good deals online. There have been a few stories that have been told by consumers who have fallen victim to fraud when purchasing a car or finding a rental apartment via the Internet.
Different scams tend to affect buyers and sellers.
The more common variants include:
1. The “Price Too Good to Be True” scam
In this scam, a prospective buyer sees an attractive-looking car for a price well below market value. These cars are normally posted online from the northern parts of Ghana. When the buyer contacts the seller, he or she is asked to transfer money into an account to fuel the car for the journey down south. When the money is transferred and collected, the “seller” breaks contact and the buyer loses money.
There are instances where buyers have lost money by making part payments for the vehicles.
The same can also be experienced in the online rental or sale of properties where they are advertised (usually at low costs) on online classified sites.The fraudsters use information and photos describing properties that have been “scraped” from legitimate ads.He or she will impersonate the landlord, property manager or estate agent and will respond to emails and calls from prospective tenants. The scammer indicates he or she is unable to meet a prospective renter at the property, and instead proposes a meeting off site to exchange keys, sign a tenancy agreement and collect rental deposits. Victims may only learn they’ve been duped when they show up at a property to discover that it is already occupied.
2. The “Buyers” scam
In this scam, a legitimate seller posts an item like a tablet or mobile phone for sale. He or she is then contacted by a prospective “buyer” (really a scammer) who directs him to his “office”. These “offices” are normally located in busy places like hospitals or shopping malls. When the seller arrives, he or she is asked to give the item to the buyer for testing after which he or she is asked to wait for the buyer who enters his “office” ostensibly to bring the money for payment. The buyer absconds with the item through the “backdoor” and it turns out that the people at the “office” where the transaction was carried out did not even know the identity of “buyer”.
The Marketing Manager of Tonaton.com, Kwabena Opoku-Boakye has warned Internet users to be alert for these types of fraud, which have been common in major markets where online trading is pervasive.
“There is very little an online classifieds platform can do to prevent people from parting with money before seeing an item they intend to buy. We have continuously been educating consumers through radio interviews on what some of these scammers can do and the reason why prospective buyers should not part with money for an item they haven’t seen”, he says.
On her part, Mrs. Rita Chikwendu-Offeh who is the Customer Support Manager of Tonaton.com says the threat of these scammers informed the company’s decision to manually review all ads posted on the website by a local Customer Support team.
“The threat of these fraudsters to our business is real and in addition to our manual reviews, we have also boldly displayed on our home page, tit-bits on how to buy and sell safely on Tonaton.com”, she says. “The impact of these initiatives have been phenomenal and there has been a massive reduction in the number of fraudulent ads that find their way onto our platform”, she concludes.
Meanwhile, users of online platforms continue to display a lot of confidence in this new medium. This is underpinned by the number of items uploaded weekly online which is in excess of 20,000 nationwide. 75% of these ads can be found on Tonaton.com alone. Over 1 million visitors successfully continue to visit online classified websites on a monthly basis either to upload an item for sale or looking for an item to buy. This is a testimony to the integral role these classified websites play in the economic lives of Ghanaians.
Below are the highlights on the steps Tonaton.com is recommending to users to ensure one’s experience is as safe as possible on their website.
General safety advice
• Keep things local. Meet the seller in person, check the item and make sure you are satisfied with it before you make a payment.
• Exchange item and payment at the same time. Buyers – don’t make any payments before receiving an item. Sellers – don’t send an item before receiving payment.
• Use common sense. Avoid anything that appears too good to be true, such as unrealistically low prices and promises of quick money.
Scams and frauds to watch out for
• Fake payment services. Tonaton.com is not involved in the financial transaction between buyers and sellers.
• Fake information requests. Tonaton.com never sends emails requesting your personal details. If you receive an email asking you to provide your personal details to us, do not open any links. Please report the email and delete it.
• Requests to use money transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram. These services are not meant for transactions between strangers and many scams are run through them. Avoid requests to use these services.