Riddled With Scams, Gumtree Loses Credibility
Filed Under: Business, Media & Tech | Posted: 06/17/2008 at 2:45AM
Comments | Region: United Kingdom (Great Britain)
The rise of listings site Gumtree gave private landlords the opportunity to cut out agency costs by dealing directly with prospective tenants. But a rash of online fraud through the site is threatening throw its legitimacy into question.
It’s a simple enough scam. ‘Landlords’ post phoney advertisements for goods or accommodation online and when approached insist that the applicants make a transfer to a friend or relative via Western Union, MoneyGram or a similar portal as proof that they have the first instalment (usually one months rent plus another month’s deposit) available to them.
The confirmation slip that proves such a transaction has been made contains information that allows the fraudsters to intercept the money before it has been collected by said friend or relative. Curiously, many recognised money transfer sites do not require identification from recipients.
A recent case was reported by an Italian student who had begun a correspondence with a Mrs Vivian Gregory, who claimed to be privately renting out her flat on Harrington Street in SW7. The student, who asked to remain nameless, got as far as sending the ‘landlady’ a copy of the transfer receipt he made through Western Union to his cousin.
‘Fortunately, I didn’t trust the method and sent the receipt with the security number obscured’ he said. When my cousin phoned the number given by Mrs. Gregory it had been disabled.’
A Google search of the name Vivian Gregory leads to a memorial website dedicated an elderly lady who died on November 2006. It is unclear whether the ‘landlady’ in question used this reference for a pseudonym.
A week earlier, I followed up on a similarly appealing advertisement for a studio flat in Farringdon, entering into a week-long correspondence with the supposed landlord. But having been put off by his insistence on seeing a MoneyGram receipt confirming a transfer of 1000GPB before I viewed the flat, it became clear that this was another case of attempted fraud.
MoneyGram’s website warns against exactly this sort of deal. ‘Be very suspicious of a suggestion from a stranger to send money to a friend or relative as a show of “good faith” because legitimate business is not conducted this way. You will be told that, by sending the money in the name of a friend, they will not be able to collect the funds. That is not true. Con artists often use fake identification to pretend to be someone else.’
Gumtree forums are thick with plaintive letters from those who weren’t as lucky. Scam deals have nestled themselves into almost every channel, from event tickets to sales of phoney products. Clearly, such scams are being dodged and bought into every day.
All of which tends to remind us of the cynical old adage that if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.