I’m being scammed right now…!

I’m in the middle of being scammed. It’s been slick but the telltale signs were there. And it all started with a secondhand sofa on Gumtree.

This afternoon I finally got around to publishing several unwanted items on Gumtree (I’ve sold several things here before without any hassle) after a house move within the last six months. The listing in question was a nice dwell sofa, nothing fancy, but hopefully of use to someone.

Once published, a text soon pinged in. Strange email, but a Gmail account so surely that’s ok?  “is your sofa still for sale? contact me via…” went the opening gambit on SMS before prospective buyer requested the move to email.

A non-descript email response went “Hi, yes sofa is still available. Thanks, Paul” There was a reluctance to add the name but what would a lone Christian name matter?

A forthright response quickly followed to say, “consider it sold” “cancel every other appointment” “I will pay your full asking price” “I’ll pay you via PayPal”.

However, the signs were there. “I’m buying it for my cousin as a gift…sadly I would not be able to come personally and collect due to my hearing loss and me being in a wheelchair…I have an agent that would help me pick it up…”

Ok. So those of you shouting at your screen saying, bail out, no more, are you stupid? I hope the answer to the latter is no…but we’ll see.

I’m very curious now. I’ve heard about these situations so many times. I’ve seen Anne Robinson make wee boys out of big boys on all these consumer shows. Maybe it’s the journalist in me. I knew it was the start of being taken for a ride, but I wanted to see how it went. What could go wrong so long as I was aware of the pitfalls. Rightly or wrongly I played along…for a time.

I said that I don’t really use PayPal and could work with a bank transfer. “I’m sorry I only have limited access to cash… I can only pay via PayPal…” came the response.

I have a PayPal account but it was unused for years. One of those classic zombie accounts we likely all have for this and the other that we barely know the details of let alone up to date logon details. Reset password or set up a new account? I spoke to PayPal; it was quicker to close my old, barely used, account and start afresh, so that’s what we did. No problem.

Surely the 20 million UK shoppers or seven million businesses around the world using PayPal can’t be wrong. I had no qualms. So, new account is set up, I give our ‘prospective buyer’ the email needed for transfer.

“That’s perfect…In order to avoid mistakes could you confirm the exact amount that I need to send into your PayPal account?” came the slick response.

“£250 (sterling) please.”

And this is where it gets interesting. Up until now we’re jockeying, nothing has been shared other than a couple of amateurish pics of said sofa on Gumtree…and an email address.

The first email thread begins a 15.28 after the initial text at 13.17. For the next three-and-a-half-hours they are systematic emails. Too prompt, too slick. And don’t be fooled by the generally excellent grammar. Not a typo or possible clue in sight.

So, it’s 17.03 and feeding time at the zoo in our wee world but still the phone pings on the kitchen sideboard. Another message from our ‘buyer’. “I’m glad to inform you that I’ve made payment. PayPal have said that they have sent you a confirmation…”

It goes on to say they had a little problem with the agent and that they can only schedule a pick-up of the sofa after they receive their fee “in their head office via western union, but due to me being in a wheelchair…” They supposedly sent me £550 via PayPal; £250 for the sofa, £260 for the pick-up and the £40 Western Union Fee.

And here’s the kicker. At 16.57 I received an email supposedly from PayPal, confirming “You have received a PayPal payment of £550.00 GBP sent from Mary Clara”.

However, the small print says otherwise and the status remains “pending”. It’s a scam email. The chancers appear to have replicated an email and it looks just like the real thing, but don’t let them in.

The scam? They pretend to give you the courier costs and charges into your PayPal account because “they are in a wheelchair” in this case. Problem is no monies are in your PayPal account and all you have is their promise of the £550 after the £300 (£260 and £40 fee) are paid in cash at Western Union.

Ok, so we’ve aborted the mission. Enough cat and mouse. This nonsense had to stop. But it was an eye-opener to see how easily the trap could be set. Not big money, not this time, but the principle of theft is exactly the same.

Mary Clara and Jie Yang from China can sling their hook.

And the sofa is still for sale!

Telltale Signs

1 Quick response, far too quick, the Gumtree post was only up a matter of minutes, certainly less than an hour

2 The instruction to move immediately from sms to email

3 Inability to come and view the item being sold (usually an excuse accompanies, in this case it was hearing loss and wheelchair)

4 Agent will pick it up – more alarm bells – after I receive money through PayPal

5 There’s a time difference with my email responses. The times on the email thread are incorrect

6 The need to get the agent/pick-up in place

7 Only PayPal will do, no bank transfer then ultimately it had to be cash via Western Union on this occasion

8 The obvious one. Someone is shopping for a bargain on Gumtree, yet they are more than happy to pay double the asking price to arrange for pick-ups and agents without having seen the sofa

Disclaimer: I am not for one second suggesting platforms such as Gumtree, PayPal or Western Union are unsafe to use, rather to emphasise that opportunists will use whatever means possible to leverage a position and try to defraud you. I have emailed PayPal the email I consider to be a fraud and the email thread between myself and ‘mary clara’ is included in this post. If you have any queries or are unsure about your account, best to contact PayPal or Gumtree direct from details on their official sites.  

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