I recently started looking for a new flat. I found a few flats in the “For Rent” section on Gumtree that looked good. I sent a message to the posters through the website asking for further information or to arrange viewings. Four of the six people who have got back to me so far have been Nigerian 419 scammers. Instead of providing the information I asked for, they all followed a similar pattern:
They wouldn’t provide the flats address
They used free throwaway web based email accounts on yahoo, gmail and hotmail.
They provided me with long elaborate stories of why they were renting out their flats
They wanted me to do a Western Union money transfer to a friend and then email them the receipt so they could confirm that I have enough money to move in. Given the receipt they would have been able to steal the money.
I looked at the headers of the emails that I was sent, and they all came from Lagos in Nigeria. A well known cesspool of thieves and 419 scammers. I reported the adverts to Gumtree and within minutes they were taken down.
I decided to look into this further as I suspected it wasn’t a new phenomenon. I found this BBC news article about this exact problem which was posted over a year ago. In the article, it says “A spokesman for Gumtree said it was working with the money transfer agency Western Union to prevent the fraud.”
If they’ve known about this for over a year, why on Earth is it still happening? Have Gumtree actually done anything to prevent this fraud, or have they just been hoping it would disappear and move on elsewhere? There are numerous simple things that Gumtree could do to prevent/reduce this sort of fraud. Off the top of my head:
When an ad is taken down because of fraud, email all of the people who responded to the ad through the site, warning them about what has happened. After all, after the initial contact through the website, all future contact goes directly between the victim and the fraudster meaning that the fraud could continue after the ad has been removed.
Display the origin country of the poster at the top of each item, with a nice little graphic of the countries flag. An advert about a flat in the UK posted by somebody in Nigeria should ring alarm bells for most people.
Make it so all communication goes through the Gumtree site, just like Ebay does it. That way, Gumtree could apply filters to messages which flag up adverts. For example, if somebody posts an advert to rent out a flat, and then sends somebody a message containing “Western Union”, that message and advert should be flagged up for a manual check. This would also prevent the various adverts that I’ve come across which are obviously designed to mine for peoples email addresses.
If somebody is posting a rental advert in a country that they’re not in themselves, do an automated phone confirmation. Then if the advert is later blocked because of fraud etc, that phone number can be blacklisted for future postings, along with the IP it was posted from.
1 and 2 would be cheap, easy wins, and there’s no good reason that Gumtree isn’t already doing them. 3 and 4 would be a little more complicated and expensive to set up, but then combatting fraud costs money, and if Gumtree cared about their users, they’d invest in protecting them.
Don’t get me wrong, Gumtree do an excellent job of taking down adverts when they’re reported, but they should be putting more effort into preventing them from being posted in the first place and more effort into preventing abuse from taking place in the interim period between them being posted and taken down.