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‘Checkpoint’ highlights various cases of Facebook Marketplace deals gone horribly wrong

“We often drive to different areas, different people, to buy stuff,” Facebook Marketplace scam victim, Tania Scott-Radley of Centurion, Pretoria, told ‘Checkpoint’ in January this year. Scott-Radley had been using the online platform to purchase just about anything her family needed for some ten years. She thought she’d become adept at spotting chance takers. “You can see when maybe a car that, you know, is worth R80,000 to R100,000 is being advertised for R30,000,” she explained.

Timothy Magoro, from Kempton Park, east of Johannesburg, is another faithful Facebook Marketplace shopper. A security company owner by occupation, he was also convinced he could detect a World Wide Web fraudster from a mile away. “Sometimes you speak to someone who doesn’t want to send you their location or they want you to come to their place or deposit money first, that’s when I know there’s something fishy.”

Scott-Radley and Magoro saw nothing untoward when the Facebook Marketplace seller they separately came into contact with recently wanted them to meet him in Winterveld, a crime hotspot, north of the capital, Pretoria. “We have been all over the place, you know people are just people,” Scott-Radley said in her own defence.

Magoro recalls how the seller suggested they shouldn’t meet too late in the day for safety reasons. This assured him the person was just as concerned about security as he was.

“What happened with this particular case, we were interested in tiles that were used in a building project,” Scott-Radley told ‘Checkpoint’. “They matched the tiles that we already had. We would buy 10 boxes of the tiles which came to R5,000.” The tiles had been discontinued and were not being sold in shops any longer and the price was good but not ridiculously low, she concluded. The seller told her the tiles had been left over from a project. “So I thought this man is in the construction industry.”

Magoro and Scott-Radley drove from their respective homes in Gauteng, on different days, to Winterveld, to meet the person who was going to sell them tiles in Scott-Radley’s case and a bakkie in Mogoro’s. They both got in touch with their sellers upon arrival at the location they’d been sent.

Both found the seller was not there. Upon calling, they were told a young man would be sent to pick them up and bring them to where the seller was. Another security measure by the seller the two rationalised. In both incidents, it was a young man who came to fetch them. After being picked up and taken to the “final destination”, suddenly, “six armed men are surrounding us,” says Scott-Ridley who was with her husband at the time. “They said, if we want things to go well, we must cooperate.”

Magoro found himself in a similar situation. “If you don’t cooperate we will blow your head off,” he was told. Their car was taken over. “They started driving around to confuse us and eventually stopped in a veld full of mosquitoes,” says Scott-Radley. Both Scott-Radley and Magoro’s bank accounts were all but cleaned out. They were let go only when all the money that could be taken was out and purchases made to their card’s maximum limits.

While being held captive and his bank account was being emptied, FNB called Magoro to enquire whether it was indeed him on a buying frenzy. Surrounded by gunmen, he told the bank employee on the other end of the line that it was indeed him. When asked to confirm his personal details, Magoro cleverly gave one wrong name and the wrong surname. FNB stopped all money transfers immediately but did not block his cards. The criminals proceeded to use his bank cards until they could no longer.

When ‘Checkpoint’ spoke to Magoro, he told us, FNB wouldn’t refund him because the robbers had used his pin to enter his Banking App. ‘Checkpoint’ contacted FNB, the bank initially defended its decision to not refund Magoro. In an email they wrote, “Despite the customer’s authorisation, the Bank proactively detected this fraud, thereby safeguarding the customer from any additional financial loss. We can verify that transactions were not permitted following the customer’s failure to pass security verification.”

‘Checkpoint’ challenged this response and put it to FNB that although the bank reversed online transactions, it did not block the customer’s cards, allowing the robbers to continue using them. The bank requested more time to respond to follow-up questions. A day later, FNB capitulated and wrote the following to ‘Checkpoint’: “Following our investigation we can confirm that our customer was a victim of violent crime fraud (duress) where various transactions were processed on their accounts. In consideration of the specific circumstances linked to this incident, a full refund will be instituted to the customer.”

Scott-Radley told ‘Checkpoint’ she got most of her money back from the banks without too much of a hassle. But the men who kidnapped, robbed, and assaulted her and her husband remained at large despite the fact that she gave police countless leads, including the fact that her husband’s phone (which was taken by the robbers) remained in use for days after they had been released. “We have life360 on our phones,” Scott-Radley told ‘Checkpoint’. “I can access his life360 on my life360 which I reactivated on my new phone, so I could see where his phone was going,” she added. “One of the detectives went there but he was not able to find anything. By the time he went there the phone had been turned off. It was on for ten days after the robbery she says. Police were aware all that time but did nothing until it was too late.”

While Magoro was being held hostage, Winterveld residents were going about business as normal, fully aware of what was happening to him. “They knew those guys by name. I even thought if I had to try escape nobody would assist me because everyone in that area seemed aware of what was going on and nobody was bothered,” he continued.

For former Pretoria Rugby Club chairperson, Jaco Basson, an attempted car purchase led to the end of his life. When he arrived in Winterveld to inspect the car that had been advertised on Facebook Marketplace with close friend and car dealer, Frans Burger, the robbers appear to have been spooked and shot him right there and then. While bleeding to death in his car, the criminals took everything they could out of Basson’s car and instructed his friend to rush him to hospital. “Your friend is bleeding, take him to hospital,” Burger was told. They even helped Burger move hefty Basson from the driver’s to the back seat and gave him directions to the nearby Kgabo clinic. Basson was declared dead on arrival.

Many of the cars advertised by criminals on Facebook marketplace are first stolen online. Robbers randomly collect pictures of cars legitimately being sold online and advertise them as theirs. The NP200 Magoro was interested in, had been sold two months prior. Its pictures, license disk, and registration papers were uploaded on Facebook Marketplace by criminals. ‘Checkpoint’ was able to trace the actual owner of the car who still had all the legitimate documentation with him. Experts advise anyone making an online purchase to meet the seller at a venue of their own choosing, which should preferably be a police station. Legitimate sellers would not shy away from meeting at a police station, while criminals are likely to.

Nkepile Mabuse is the presenter and producer of ‘Checkpoint’. It airs on eNCA every Tuesday night at 22h00. Harri Vithi and Tshegofatso Magolego are also producers on the show.

By Editor