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Gumtree Scam Stories and What We Can Learn

from the Gumtree Team

29 May 2024 9 mins read

In today’s digital age, platforms like Gumtree have revolutionised how we buy and sell items, offering unparalleled convenience and various choices. While it’s true that scams have become more prevalent, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of Gumtree transactions are safe and successful. 

In this blog, we’ll share real-life scam stories and highlight how to spot and avoid these pitfalls. Understanding the warning signs and how to protect yourself can ensure your Gumtree experience remains positive and secure.

Understanding the Scam Pattern

Understanding the pattern of scams on platforms like Gumtree is essential because it equips users with the knowledge to identify and avoid potential frauds, safeguarding their personal and financial information. This awareness not only helps individuals navigate online transactions more safely but also contributes to the overall security of the online community by preventing scams from proliferating. Scammers on Gumtree typically follow a specific pattern:

  • They make initial contact through SMS or email.
  • They concoct fake stories involving disabilities or an urgent need to purchase the item.
  • They use fake PayPal emails and receipts to create a false sense of security.
  • They request upfront payments for couriers via services like Western Union or Ria Money Transfer.

By recognising these common scam patterns, users can better protect themselves and contribute to a safer online community. Staying vigilant and following safety advice ensures secure transactions and helps prevent fraud on platforms like Gumtree.

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Mountain Bike Scam: A Classic Example of the Overpayment Scam

A Gumtree user recently recounted an incident involving a significant scam targeting sellers on the platform. The user had listed a mountain bike for sale when she received a text message from a UK phone number asking them to email a prospective buyer at a given email address. Curious, the user decided to follow up.

The response they received was all too familiar to seasoned scam-watchers. The buyer expressed immediate interest in the bike, claiming she wanted to buy it as a gift and was ready to pay the total asking price without any negotiations. She cited her disabilities, mentioning that she was deaf and in a wheelchair, which prevented her from inspecting the bike in person. Instead, she planned to send a courier agent to collect it. 

The buyer insisted on using PayPal for the transaction, stating, “Please consider it sold and take the ads down. I am interested in buying it today as a gift for someone and am ready to pay your full asking price. I have read through the advert, and I’m delighted with it, and I will be glad if you can get back to me fast. Sadly, I won’t be able to come for the inspection and pick up due to my disabilities. I lost my hearing and am in a wheelchair, but I have a courier agent who will help me pick it up at your preferred location. Regarding the payment, I can only pay via PayPal now, and I will be responsible for all the PayPal fees/charges on this transaction.”

Recognising the hallmarks of a scam, the user decided to play along to see how far it would go. The bike was priced at $1300, and the seller supposedly received a PayPal payment of $1650. However, in reality, no funds arrived in the account. The buyer then contacted the seller, claiming issues with the courier and requesting that the buyer transfer $350 back to them via Western Union.

This type of scam, known as an overpayment scam, is designed to trick the seller into sending money to the scammer under the pretence that it’s for courier fees or other charges. The Gumtree user shared her experience to warn others about scammers’ tactics, including claims of disabilities, urgent purchase requests, and fake payment confirmations. She hoped the story would help others avoid falling victim to such schemes.

Cargo Bike Scam: A Classic Email Scam

One Gumtree user reported experiencing a scam attempt when selling a cargo bike. They received text messages from two numbers inquiring about the bike’s availability. The text messages urged the seller to contact two email addresses. 

Upon responding to both email addresses, the user noticed that he received replies from both senders simultaneously, suggesting the responses were automated. Both replies followed a similar script, indicating a well-coordinated scam effort.

The first email mentioned:

  • “Great! Please consider it sold and take the ads down off Gumtree. I am buying it for my son, and I am ready to pay the full price you requested. I have read through the advert, and I’m delighted with it, and I will be glad if you can get back to me fast. Sadly, I won’t be able to come for the inspection and pick up due to my disabilities. I lost my hearing and am in a wheelchair, but I have a courier agent who will help me pick it up at your preferred location. Regarding the payment, I can only pay via PayPal at the moment and will be responsible for all the PayPal fees/charges on this transaction. Kindly reply with your PayPal email, phone number, and pick-up location so I can inform the courier agent. Awaiting your reply soon…”

Similarly, the second email stated:

  • “Please consider it sold and take the ads down. I am interested in buying it today as a gift for someone and am ready to pay your full asking price. I have read through the advert, and I’m delighted with it, and I will be glad if you can get back to me fast. Sadly, I won’t be able to come for the inspection and pick up due to my disabilities. I lost my hearing and am in a wheelchair, but I have a courier agent who will help me pick it up at your preferred location. Regarding the payment, I can only pay via PayPal at the moment, and I will be responsible for all the PayPal fees/charges on this transaction. Kindly get back to me with your PayPal email and the pick-up location so I can make payment and inform the courier agent about it now.”

This type of scam involves the fraudster pretending to be a legitimate buyer who, due to disabilities, cannot inspect or pick up the item personally. Instead, they offer to pay via PayPal and use a courier service for the pickup. The scam usually progresses to fake PayPal emails and requests for the seller to cover courier costs upfront, which is the actual scam. By recognising the pattern of identical and automated messages, the user could identify and avoid falling victim to this scam.

The Sofa Scam: Emotional Manipulation Tactic

A seller recently shared their experience of a sophisticated scam while trying to sell a sofa on Gumtree. The scam began with an email from a potential buyer who expressed interest in purchasing the sofa for their cousin and was willing to pay the total asking price. The initial message sounded convincing and sincere, stating, “Great! Please consider it sold as I am willing to pay your full asking price because I need to buy it for my cousin ASAP. I have read through the advert, and I’m delighted with it; sadly, I would not be able to come personally to collect due to my hearing loss and me being in a wheelchair.”

The buyer explained that they would send a courier agent to pick up the item and offered to pay via PayPal. The seller was asked for additional photos of the sofa and the pick-up location. The correspondence continued throughout the day, with the scammer claiming to have made the payment. They stated, “I am glad to inform you that I have made the payment! PayPal said that they sent you a confirmation email, so please check your email inbox.”

However, the scammer introduced a complication involving the courier agent. They claimed the agent could only schedule the pick-up after receiving a fee via Ria Money Transfer. Due to the buyer’s purported disability, they couldn’t visit a Ria Money Transfer shop. The scammer added the pick-up fee to the payment, expecting the seller to forward £250 to the courier.

Recognising the scam, the seller responded that they didn’t make the transfer and reported the situation to PayPal.

This is a classic upfront payment scam combined with emotional manipulation. The scammer uses a fake disability story to gain sympathy and trust, then introduces a fee the seller must pay before supposedly receiving the total payment. The scam preys on the seller’s good intentions and rushes to close the deal.

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Key Takeaways and Lessons Learned

In order to ensure a secure and successful experience when using online marketplaces such as Gumtree, it’s important to be proactive in identifying and responding to potential scams. Adhering to the following set of guidelines can help safeguard your personal and financial information, leading to secure and successful transactions: 

  • Recognise Red Flags: Be wary of buyers who are overly eager to purchase without seeing the item, especially those who claim disabilities or urgent needs.
  • Verify Payments: Never trust emails or links claiming to be from PayPal without verifying through the official PayPal website.
  • Cash Transactions: Prioritise cash transactions or secure payment methods for high-value items.
  • Report Suspicious Activity: Report suspicious emails or requests to Gumtree,  PayPal, and local authorities.
  • Stay Informed: Regularly update yourself on common scams and share your experiences to help others.

By staying alert to red flags and following these safety measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to scams. Regularly updating your knowledge and sharing experiences with others can foster a safer online environment for everyone.

Stay Vigilant: Protect Yourself from Gumtree Scams

Awareness is critical to preventing scams. By staying vigilant and sharing our stories, we can protect ourselves and others from falling victim to these deceitful tactics. Always remember to verify, question, and report suspicious activities.

Have you encountered a scam on Gumtree? Share your story in the comments below to help others stay informed, and share this blog on social media to spread the word. For more information on staying safe, visit the Gumtree Safety Advice.