Protect yourself from cyber scammers with these 10 tips

03 Oct 2022

Online scams are everywhere so we put together this checklist to help you protect yourself and your hard-earned money.

Buying second-hand cars, clothes and gadgets online can be a great way to money, but a growing number of clients are coming to us with heart-breaking stories of being scammed and left with nothing. These scams are everywhere and as consumers, we need to protect ourselves. Use this checklist from start to finish every time you want to buy online and save yourself from the dodgy deals and fake offers that pop up at every turn.

Online marketplaces are convenient to browse for bargains, look for jobs and turn unwanted junk into hard cash. However, due to the ease with which one can buy or sell in the digital space, there are a lot of extra precautions that we need to take, but often forget about in the face of what seems like a fantastic opportunity.

One must always remember that when dealing in a digital space, there is no way of confirming the identities of parties because you do not meet them beforehand. We trust blindly that the person we are dealing with is honest, but it is easy to lie on a digital platform without being caught.

One such case is that of Mr Tshabalala (name changed to protect privacy).

Mr. Tshabalala saw an ad on a particular digital marketplace for a BMW X5 for the price of R22 000. The listing was from a dealership. Mr Tshabalala replied to the ad, and after some discussion, agreed to trade in his current vehicle for R15 000 and pay off the shortfall in instalments.

These negotiations took place over telephonic discussions and WhatsApp messages, but never in person.

The dealership sent a driver to pick up the vehicle and vehicle papers and Mr Tshabalala handed them over. Mr Tshabalala then made a further payment of R2 000 towards the outstanding amount.

Unfortunately for Mr. Tshabalala, the dealership never delivered his X5 and made excuses about transport, issues with the vehicle, and the contact person being in hospital.

The matter was handed over and it was found that the dealership was not a registered entity and it was operating under a false name. The person who Mr. Tshabalala had always spoken to, he knew only as “Patrick”. Patrick cannot be traced and is likely a false name. When we examined the address of the dealership, it was also false and nothing but an open field.

Sadly, Mr Tshabalala will probably never see his X5, his previous vehicle, or his hard-earned money again. So, what could he have done differently? How do we protect ourselves from online scammers?

While vehicle scams are popular, they are not the only scams going on. Buying anything online can easily go wrong because the rules in cyberspace are tricky. We forget that the intrinsic security and reliability of brick-and-mortar shopfronts do not apply. Many of the digital market platforms that operate in South Africa are not actually South African. Based internationally, they will not get involved in legal disputes in foreign countries, which they outline in their Terms of Use. For example, Facebook’s Terms of Use explains that users are responsible for adhering to the law and that “buyers and sellers are also responsible for complying with all applicable laws and regulations” ( They explain that they will remove listings and suspend access, but there is no further mention of legal recourse, leaving users to protect themselves.

Whether it is R50 for a phone or R50 000 for a fancy car, the principle is the same. Here is a checklist of things you can do to protect yourself when buying online.

  1. Always expect something to be a scam, and then obtain information that it is in fact trustworthy.
  2. If you see an ad for something you like, go and look at the seller’s profile. Is it written in professional language?
  3. Next, Google them to see if they have a website and if there are any reviews. Check to see when those reviews were published, if they are all really good and published very close together, they may not be genuine
  4. On the website, there should be contact details and an address, check all of these details. Call the numbers and use Google Street View to look at the address from a safe distance.
  5. If they do not have a website, do they have a social media page? Find out as much as you can about the seller. This is also good practice if you are selling something, and someone is offering to buy it.
  6. The number one, most important golden rule for buying online, even if you follow none of the above is, always arrange to meet at a neutral, public place to exchange goods for money.
  7. Never ever give out your home address to sellers or buyers.
  8. Do not go alone. Always take someone you trust with you.
  9. Look carefully at what you are buying.
    • Is it the same thing you asked for?
    • Is it exactly as it was described?
    • If there are papers that need to be handed over, are they complete?
    • If you are selling and accepting cash, is it genuine cash?
  10. Once you are satisfied that you are getting what you wanted, only then hand over the cash, or do the EFT and send them proof of payment.

Remember, whenever you buy second hand, you assume the risk on the item as soon as you take possession. Be 110% sure that you want that item, in its current condition, because once you take it, you cannot give it back. When leaving the meeting with your new purchase, particularly if it is a very valuable item, do not go straight home. If you have sold something and you are now carrying a large amount of cash, either go straight to the bank or past the police station.

Protecting ourselves is also how we protect others, please share this checklist with your friends and family! Points 1-6 can also apply to jobs found online.

With Legal and Tax, you’re not alone

Article sourced from Legal&Tax.

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(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
Michael Visser

Michael Visser is a legal advisor at Legal&Tax. He has a Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.) Law and LLB from The University of Pretoria. Read more about Michael Visser


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