It was finally time to pass on my old personal phone, a Samsung Galaxy S7. What better way than via Gumtree? Naturally someone tried to rip me off. Welcome to the Gumtree scam.

Before I go on, I should point out that it isn’t Gumtree trying to scam anyone. Indeed, as one of Australia’s favourite places to sell and buy stuff, Gumtree is aware of these things. It’s a good idea if you’re going to use Gumtree to first have a quick look through its articles on operating safely. When my suspicions were aroused, that’s what I did.

No, it’s third parties engaging in the Gumtree scam.

Now, back to my phone.

Before the Gumtree scam

The S7 was my personal phone, for which I paid personal money a few years ago. I have long since retired it, but it remained an unused backup, just in case. Now it was time for it to go to good use with someone else.

The first step was to check Gumtree to see the amount for which similar models were listed. Since my phone was in superb condition, I listed it for $300 and uploaded a few pictures. I figured that price would give me a reasonable amount of downwards negotiating room.

A quick approach

Within an hour of listing, I received a Gumtree user email. It was from, um, “John”. “Hey mate,someone want to purchase it today,email him at [email protected]” (sic – all the following quotes are sic)

Gumtree scam

Note, I’m leaving in these email addresses. Would-be thieves, which is the proper name for Gumtree scam artists, don’t get to have their privacy protected, in my view.

Now, “John” was listed as a “Gummie since 2019”, and when I later checked he had no record of other purchases, nor sales listings. That’s suspicious. So was the fact that he was contacting me on behalf of someone else.

But there was no harm in following along a few steps to see where things went. I emailed the mentioned address with the subject line “Samsung Galaxy S7” as follows: “Someone replied to my gumtree ad for this phone, saying you’d like to purchase it. Correct?”

Within minutes I received a reply from “Ola Paul”. He said, “hi,am currently in china.so am buying it from here and i will be paying via PayPal and pay the shipping cost too.so you will help me ship it to china ok?”

Gumtree scam

Ah, overseas eh? Tough bickies ensuring payment. And why would someone in China want an Australian-optimised smart phone, anyway? “Ola Paul” was starting to look like a Gumtree scam artist to me. Still, I agreed, but said that “I’d be seeking payment first in the circumstances. Is that okay with you?”

“Ola Paul” came back., “ok i will add 40 for express shipping fee..send me your PayPal email address for the payment”.

Gumtree scam

At my request, he supplied his postal address – Ola paul, Pengbu Zhangjiaba 322 Jianggan, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, 310000, China (Phone number 1565800077), in case anyone’s interested.

Now for payment

I emailed “Ola Paul” my PayPal email address, he asked me the total price and I told him: $340 including shipping.

Moments later, he replied: “payment made,check your email address inbox and spam for the confirmation”.

Gumtree scam

Note: “and spam”! Sounds like the voice of experience. No emails appeared in my inbox, so I checked spam. Ah, there it was:

Gumtree scam

Imagine that, PayPal using a gmail account for its communications. As for the email itself … ludicrous:

Gumtree scam

Basically, it’s saying that the purchaser had made payment, but that PayPal was holding the funds until I confirmed that I had shipped the item. So, of course, I’d only find out that there was no real payment after I had shipped the item to obtain the relevant information.

The email is inadvertently hilarious. Apart from the terrible grammar, the email says things that a business would never say. Such as, “Also, this is where we generate our income, because the more transaction made through PayPal, the more we generate our Income.”

There’s also the nice suggestion that one could have the FBI after one: “Failure to abide by these laid down safety measures by Paypal may leads to suspension from PayPal and further more invitation to an interrogation with the FBI”.

And, of course, there’s another self-congratulatory note: “So can you see we are very considerate about the safety of both buyer and seller.”

Yes, so very, very considerate.

Paying to be scammed

I did a cursory check of courier costs. Indeed, it would have cost around $40 to send the phone to him. So this thief would not only have deprived me of my property, I would have paid the $40 bill for actually sending the stolen goods to the thief. Good trick!

Of course, I have engaged in no further correspondence with “Ola Paul”. I doubt I’ll be hearing from him.

I was going to report “John”, the “Gummie since 2019” who sent the first message, but I could see no obvious way at Gumtree on how to report a user. But for what it is, his public profile is here.

Not long after the first email, there was another email from a “Scott Charlton” who:

  • Wanted to know the “present Condition” and could I send him “some pics of it”, even though the pics and condition were in the advertisement.
  • Was “ready to buy it now as i need it urgent.”
  • Because “i’m on Business trip at this moment” can’t come personally.
  • Will “add $70 for shipping fees, i will like you to get it ship via Express, after the payment has been made to your account.”
  • Will “be paying you via via PayPal or bank transfer, just get back to me with your paypal email account or bank details Account number,Account name, BSB number as to process the payment now.”

I asked him where he was. Twenty hours later, there has been no reply.

Seriously, read Gumtree’s sensible safety suggestions and get back to trading without worries about being ripped off. And you can read about some other scams we’ve covered in the past here.

And do remember, while there were many obvious tells in this attempt at a Gumtree scam, over time such crooks are likely to become more sophisticated. They may even learn proper grammar.

Gumtree responds

“The safety and security of our community is our main priority. While the majority of our community members have a positive experience, sometimes bad seeds do target our users. While these incidents occur, we work closely with law enforcement to assist with their investigations

“If you’re selling phones on Gumtree, we recommend following these steps: We are a community site, so we always encourage members to buy and sell locally and to meet in person. For personal ease and safety, arrange to meet in a busy public place and take a friend or family member with you. For added peace of mind, it can be beneficial to ask a buyer to show their personal identification before you hand over any goods for inspection”

“We encourage our community to report any concerning or suspicious ads. We also encourage people to report any suspected unlawful activity to the police.”

Please also see phone buying and selling tips on our Gumtree website here.