A middle-aged Queensland man with a history in criminal investigation says falling victim to an online scam is a reminder that anyone can be targeted.
John (not his real name) from the Sunshine Coast handed over a diagnostic mechanics tool that retails for about $13,000, but did not receive the money for the sale.
He believed he had engaged in a legitimate transaction on the trading website Gumtree.
John is the latest to be targeted by a syndicate of scammers operating on online trading sites, predominantly Gumtree, using doctored receipts to take items without paying.
Queensland police said the scam originated in Brisbane but had become increasingly prevalent across south-east Queensland.
The scammers operate by contacting sellers and asking to buy items such as cars, machinery and mechanical parts, valued between $1,000 and $25,000, sight unseen.
Scammers then insist on immediately transferring money by electronic bank transfer, before sending a photograph of a fake receipt and a copy of a fraudulently obtained driver’s licence.
After sending the fake documents, the scammers insist on sending a third party, usually a legitimate parcel delivery service, to collect the items from the seller before they realise the funds have not been transferred.
Scam victim John said he spoke to the supposed buyer, who had clear mechanical knowledge of the product, a number of times.
He said he also asked for documents to prove the buyer’s identity before handing the item over.
“The buyer’s mate came and picked up the item and a couple of days later the money hadn’t cleared so I made my own inquiries and found out that I had been scammed,” John said.
“It was going from the Westpac Bank to ANZ, so it was always going to take overnight and that’s why I said ‘you need to provide me with identification’.
“What I found out since is the driver’s licence and the details were of a gentleman that he actually scammed the same day.”
Ensure payment has been made: police
Acting Detective Sergeant Russ Connor warned users of Gumtree and other trading sites not to hand over items until a payment had been fully verified.
He said members of the community should also be very careful to whom they sent copies of their identification, as this was regularly ending up in the hands of fraudsters.
“The reason that they’re targeting these higher value items is because they are then offloading these items using fake accounts — usually on Gumtree or Facebook — for quite reduced prices but obviously any profit they make is 100 per cent profit to them,” he said.
John said people should never sell items without first having money in the bank or in the hand.
“I never thought I’d get scammed and believe it or not, after 12 years in the investigation game, I got scammed myself,” he said.
“The unfortunate thing is when whoever these guys sell this to, when they go to update the machine it won’t work as it’s been reported stolen — it’s going to be useless machine.”
Watch for scam warning signs
Sergeant Connor said some members of a syndicate in Brisbane had been charged but their victims were spread across south-east Queensland.
“We do believe that word of mouth between the criminals has got out and it’s now become more widespread,” he said.
Acting Detective Sergeant Ross Connor said scammers had some tell-tale signs. (ABC News: Nicole Hegarty)
He says faked receipts looked like the real thing and that identifying the perpetrators had been difficult.
“The are a number of layers to the fraud. They’re using fake phone numbers, legitimate delivery drivers, the addresses that they are getting deliveries to are usually outside blocks of units.
“If you’re selling the item online and someone wants to buy the item sight unseen then that should be a bit of an alarm bell.
“If someone’s quite pushy in trying to collect the item as soon as possible after providing a transfer receipt, that’s another tell-tale sign.”
A spokeswoman for Gumtree said user safety and security was their main priority.
“While the majority of our community members have a positive experience, sometimes bad seeds do target our users,” she said.
“We work closely with law enforcement to assist with reported incidents, and urge users to report any suspected unlawful activity to the police.
“We also encourage anyone who thinks they have come across anything suspicious or concerning to report it to us using the ‘report ad’ function.”