Jul 04, 2013

    New scam targets online sellers

    AN ELABORATE scam that targets people who sell things online has been uncovered.

    Regional implementation manager Mark D'Cotta had wanted to sell his iPad mini online, but the transaction fell through after a funds-transfer notification sent by the would-be buyer raised red flags.

    After making a deal to purchase the gadget for $450 on Tuesday, the buyer, who had contacted Mr D'Cotta via text message and then through messaging app Whatsapp, said he would transfer over $400 before meeting the seller to get the product.

    "I wondered why he or she would want to hand over such a big chunk of the money before meeting, but I agreed and gave the person my bank details," the 36-year-old, who works in the shipping industry, told My Paper on the phone yesterday.

    On Tuesday night, the buyer sent Mr D'Cotta a screenshot of an e-mail message allegedly from POSB, which stated that the bank had a "temporary hold" on the funds "until we (the bank) were able to confirm the transaction is legit and to ensure that our POSB Priveledged (sic) Banking has not been used for any form of Money Laundering service".

    The e-mail message went on to say that the seller should "proceed sending the parcel to the buyer within 12 hours after the transfer", after which the full amount of $400 would be released to the seller within six hours.

    It also included the e-mail address My Paper understands that the DBS Group, which POSB falls under, does not use e-mail addresses ending with that suffix, nor does it act as a facilitator for the sale of goods and services between individuals.

    As his suspicions were aroused, and not wanting to part with his iPad mini without getting the payment upfront, Mr D'Cotta, who noted the grammatical and spelling errors in the message, decided to call off the deal.

    He said: "I immediately thought it was a scam and told the person that I didn't want to proceed, but (the buyer) challenged me to call the bank.

    "I think it's likely that, if I were to accept that notification as genuine, the person would have made an excuse and asked me to mail (the iPad mini) rather than meet up face-to-face."

    Sure enough, a check with POSB yesterday by both Mr D'Cotta and My Paper confirmed that the message had not come from the bank. Mr D'Cotta made a police report last night.

    "In my entire life, I've never heard of such a business model, where a bank plays the middleman (for such transactions)," he said.

    Responding to queries, a DBS spokesman advised customers to be cautious when transacting with unknown people or sites, and to ensure that the online stores they patronise have secure transaction capabilities.

    "Customers should also exercise caution when revealing their account number to a third party. We do not encourage customers to utilise a personal account for business transactions," the spokesman said, adding that investigations are ongoing.

    "If the customer suspects that his account information has been compromised or detects any suspicious activity on his account, he should contact DBS immediately on 1800-111-1111."

    Banks which My Paper spoke to said that, while there are various security controls and measures in place to protect customers from fraudulent activity, they should still be careful when revealing personal details other than bank-account numbers for the purpose of fund transfers.

    There is very little fraudsters can do with just the account number. But coupling these with identity-verification information like addresses, full names and identity-card numbers could better crooks' chances of accessing accounts fraudulently, they said.