While auctioneers may request a refundable deposit, they will not sell vehicles privately or remove them from auction on receiving a deposit. Picture: 123RF/STOCKSOLUTIONS
While auctioneers may request a refundable deposit, they will not sell vehicles privately or remove them from auction on receiving a deposit. Picture: 123RF/STOCKSOLUTIONS

While social media and online purchases have seen sharp spikes with the social isolation and subsequent lockdown orders, online fraud scams have not been far behind.

In the latest scam, criminals are creating fake Facebook pages using the names of established companies to lure unsuspecting car buyers. The SA Institute of Auctioneers (SAIA) recently cautioned members to be vigilant about the new scam and cautioned online bidders to verify auctioneers’ details before interacting or making online payments.

Trusted targets

Three SAIA members have had their company identities stolen and fraudulently duplicated online — Claremart Auctioneers, Park Village Auctions and Rose-Innes Auctions — and at least eight people were convinced to pay reserve deposits for nonexistent vehicles.

Sonja Styger, chief administration officer of SAIA, says buyers are tempted by unbelievably well-priced vehicles and upon inquiry are given the option to reserve the car or buy it outright before going to auction. False invoices are then created in the name of the legitimate company and would-be bidders are scammed out of a deposit to “remove and reserve” the vehicle from auction.

“In our case a syndicate is posting sales of motor vehicles on Facebook at unbelievably low prices and when potential buyers inquire, they are led to believe that they are dealing with us as Claremart Auctioneers. In fact, they are dealing with the syndicate’s misleadingly named Clare-Mart Car Auctions,” says Marc Roberts, financial manager at Claremart Auctioneers.

Fake company names are often close to the legitimate ones 

As a buyer, you may be given a legitimate address to view the car. Unfortunately, the “reserve” payment is required upfront and it is only when you arrive to view the vehicle that you will find you have been scammed.

Criminals created a fake Facebook page in the name of Rose-Innes Auctioneers to lure buyers away from the real Rose-Innes Auctions page. Senior administration manager Tracey Rose-Innes says the criminals post pictures of vehicles that are copied from other well-known car sales websites. “They even used our physical address with their own cell numbers instead of our land line and e-mail addresses.

“After reporting and sending notifications to relevant authorities and online hosts, the criminals even became brazen enough to copy our home page exactly and began countering our efforts. They are taking advantage of our good reputation and know that customers will be less likely to query a company that is trusted. Our reputation could have been very badly damaged,” she says.

Consumer education efforts 

Park Village Auctions’ Graham van Niekerk says he wants to warn other reputable auctioneers and buyers about this type of scam. “We are currently spending much time and effort educating our buyers and fighting this type of scam where it exists ... on Facebook. We have also launched counter campaigns on the social media platform, which have been quite successful in repelling these attacks on our good name,” he says.

How you can stay safe:

  • Look out for company names that are not quite right, for example, Clare-Mart Car Auctions masquerading as Claremart Auctioneers or Rose-Innes Auctioneers masquerading as Rose-Innes Auctions.
  • Do not pay any deposits before viewing the vehicle and confirming that you are dealing with a reputable company.
  • Insist on an invoice with letterhead and company details as well as reference number should you need to make payment. Make every attempt to verify the account details.
  • While auctioneers may request a refundable deposit, they will not sell vehicles privately or remove them from auction on receiving a deposit.
  • Check details of registered auctioneers on the SA auctioneers web page — www.auctioneering.co.za