Online shoppers team up to take down rogue accounts
Scam victims are teaming up to track and take down rogue accounts on online marketplace app Carousell
It was meant to be a simple way to get tickets for a day out.
In March this year, Miss Felicia Chua, 35, had been looking for seven tickets to Universal Studios Singapore when she found a listing with an attractive offer.
Miss Chua told The New Paper she had often bought goods from online marketplace app Carousell and had only good experiences.
She did not think twice about transferring $302.50 to the seller.
After a few days with no response, she realised she had been too trusting and made a police report.
Her case is still under investigation.
However, Miss Chua is determined to prevent others from falling victim to these scams.
She has been recording the usernames of various scam accounts, as well as finding others who made police reports.
"After talking to other victims, I realised this happens a lot. I want others to know what they should look out for when making deals," said Miss Chua.
She has been actively searching Carousell listings and flagging accounts that look suspicious.One example would be accounts that spam listings of the same item and have a lot of negative feedback.
Another possible warning sign is when they do not post the actual photos of the item on sale. She now has 24 known victims.
On April 3, Crystal (not her real name), 31, came across a pre-order listing for a Chanel purse. It was lower than the retail price.
Today, she is out almost $6,000 with nothing to show for it.
Crystal thought she was being cautious. She told TNP that she checked the seller's profile to confirm the seller could be trusted.
The seller had received positive feedback from five accounts.
After two weeks, the seller responded and agreed to the deal. Crystal sent $5,800 by bank transfer.
They communicated through WhatsApp, but Crystal received only sporadic responses from the seller and no proof of purchase.
Then she saw that the positive feedback had disappeared from the seller's profile. She e-mailed Carousell to get more information.
Crystal put up a listing to warn others about the seller. She soon discovered she was not alone.
Another victim said that the accounts praising the seller were bogus and had all been created on the same day.
In Crystal's case, the seller had responded occasionally to text messages, but she kept delaying their meet-ups.
This drove Crystal to make a police report. The seller's account was suspended a few days later.
Madam Jennifer Ko's 16-year-old daughter wanted to see K-pop group EXO in Singapore. But all she experienced in the end was regret.
Tickets were sold out on the official website so she turned to Carousell and found a pair for $700.
Madam Ko, 34, told TNP the "seller" requested a $50 transfer to one bank account and $650 to be transferred to another.
She did that, but they did not receive the tickets and there was no word from the seller.
This was in December last year, a month before the concert in January. Madam Ko and her daughter made police reportsand also posted about the incident on Facebook.
Others have fallen for the lure of tickets.
Secondary school student Lim Wei Ze, 14, purchased a ticket for a Hebe Tien concert here, but ended up losing $100.
Wei Ze said: "I fell into a trap because (the seller) pressured me. She said she would sell it to others if I didn't buy it quickly.
"I was really worried about not attending the concert, so I succumbed and ended up sending the money in a bank transfer."
As with Madam Ko's daughter, there were no tickets and no communication with the seller.
Following the incident, Wei Ze posted a listing on the Carousell, warning others about the scammer.
She soon found five other victims, including Madam Ko's daughter, who believed they were cheated by the same person.
They banded together, but by the time police reports were made, the scammer's account had been terminated. The seller escaped with at least $1,100.
Wei Ze said: "I felt I was being too naive and shouldn't have been impulsive. I regret not taking all the necessary measures to make sure that it was a legitimate deal."
Despite her negative experience, Miss Chua says she will continue using the app.
“There are bad and good things on every app. You just have to be careful.”
DOS & DON'TS OF ONLINE SHOPPING
- Ensure the website you are buying from is legitimate. Look out for trustmarks, such as the McAfee Secure logo, to make sure it is secure.
- Read and understand the website's or seller's refund policy before the purchase, in case something happens during your transaction.
- Inspect your purchase once you receive it. If there is anything wrong with the product, tell the seller.
- Purchase from spammers - a seller who posts the same listing 50 times. There is a high risk of being scammed.
- Buy items if you are unsure. Clear any doubts before making a final decision.
- Readily give out personal information such as your identification card number.
Carousell: 'Report other party' when you have 'issues'
Last year, the police recorded a total of 2,173 cases of cheating involving e-commerce involving $1.76 million.
There was a 30.5 per cent rise in cases of cheating involving e-commerce, from 1,665 cases in 2014 to 2,173 last year.
Last month, in a three-day operation, the police arrested 40 men and 32 women for their suspected involvement in 183 online scam cases.
In November 2014, police and the National Crime Prevention Council launched the Anti-Scam Public Education Campaign.
Anti-scam commercials have been aired and there are advertisements on digital platforms and public spaces.
They also launched scamalert.sg, a website the public can visit for information about scams.
When The New Paper approached the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) about complaints received against Carousell, it said many came from consumers who did not receive items after payment.
TNP asked Carousell what plans it had to combat scammers.
Although it did not reveal specific statistics on the frequency of reported fraudulent behaviour, it said trust and safety is top priority.
A spokesman told TNP: "While it is our goal to make buying and selling easy for everyone, we also want to ensure we're building a safe, conducive, and friendly community.
"As a means of prevention, we have built features for user feedback, user verifications, and trust and safety guidelines to be easily accessed by users when in doubt."
Some scam victims previously brought up the concern that scammers can create new accounts easily when their old accounts are terminated.
When TNP highlighted this matter to Carousell, it responded: "Should users experience issues, we strongly encourage them to report the other party. This would ensure our team is alerted and can proceed to investigate."
According to Carousell, users can visit the website's frequently asked questions section to find out how they can report scams and fraudulent behaviour.
They can also e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if more urgent attention is required.
Global efforts to prevent fraud
Flipkart is an e-commerce company registered in Singapore that has its main market in India. It prevents the sale of counterfeit items by allowing only authorised dealers to sell branded goods such as electronics.
Flipkart's then vice-president, Mr Manish Maheshwari, told India's Economic Times in November that the company has also "established a mystery shopping team to identify fakes" and cut out fraudulent sellers.
The company contacts sellers to highlight its stand against counterfeit goods on Flipkart.
This is considered a warning to potential scammers.
Alibaba Group, the parent company of online marketplace Taobao, officially became a member of the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition (IACC) last month.
Alibaba Group is the first e-commerce company to join the IACC, a US-based non-profit organisation that combats counterfeiting and piracy.
The Alibaba-IACC's partnership began in 2013 with the IACC Marketsafe Program, which found and took down rogue listings on Taobao and its spin-off Tmall.
IACC said that nearly 5,000 stores were closed and permanently banned from Taobao and Tmall for infringements.
More than 160,000 infringing product listings had been removed.
Online seller Trezo deploys banners in chat screens that warn users of typical scam tactics.
A spokesman said: "We monitor for suspicious activities on our systems. Should we find scammers, we would e-mail all users the scammer contacted."