An Aucklander who lost his Apple computer in an elaborate scam is warning others to be vigilant since it appears the con man is familiar with tricking people.
James* was selling his Mac Mini on Facebook Marketplace last month for $1399 and received a message from someone saying they want to purchase it. James insisted on dealing with face-to-face pick-ups only, so the buyer offered $1700 for him to deliver it and sent a screenshot of the bank transfer within five minutes. He also asked for the bank transaction list screenshot, which the buyer gave him in just 10 minutes. James initially believed these weren't faked because of grains around the texts, but tells Newshub he later realised the scammer had the Photoshopped images ready to send.
He was told to deliver the computer to a house in the Auckland suburb of St Heliers where the buyer said his cousin would be waiting. James says the scammer made it sound like it was his address, even though it likely wasn't.
Upon arrival, no one was home, so James called the buyer's cousin but no one answered. He then called the buyer who claims his cousin left because James arrived at the house late.
He was told to leave the Mac Mini under three tall trees behind the bush fence, which he then sent the buyer images of to prove it had been left. James believes the scammer may have been watching him at the time or he knows the area well enough to give specific instructions on where to leave items.
The following day, James messaged the buyer to see if he'd received the computer. The buyer said he couldn't install the operating system and asked for a refund, which James said he wouldn't give until he received the initial payment. But he said he would still try his best to get it running.
After nearly a day of trying to fix the problem, the buyer suddenly stopped messaging him. The following week, James still hadn't received the money in his bank account, so tried messaging the buyer again but got no answer.
After spam calling the buyer's phone, a woman answered. When James mentioned the buyer's name, she hung up. He then hid his caller ID and called the buyer's cousin. Again, when he mentioned the buyer's name, they hung up. James says the voices from both phones were identical.
He believes the buyer is "quite familiar" with tricking people with fake payment screenshots, but is "dumb" to give out both his phone numbers.
"He knows how to use Photoshop to make fake payment screenshots, and knows how to make the scenario seem legit. He seems to have done this quite a few times."
His advice to help people avoid scams is to only hand over your items once you've received payment and the trade should be done in person.
Netsafe CEO Martin Cocker says it's far less common for the seller to be the one getting scammed.
"In the end, [the scammer has] walked away with an expensive laptop, so it's worth the trouble for them," he tells Newshub.
"They make a big effort, but they make 100 percent profit."
Cocker says it is slightly easier to scam people on online marketplaces since they're essentially classified advertisements.
"There's not a trusted safety regime wrapped around those sites. It's not like there's nothing, because it's within Facebook, but there isn't an e-commerce team regulating it like there would be for TradeMe or eBay."
He warns it's very easy for scammers to fake evidence, so it's best to rely on your own data when buying items through a marketplace, such as seeing the money arrive in your bank account.
Netsafe has some tips to help identify Facebook trading scams and the risks involved when using marketplaces.
*James' real name has been changed to keep him anonymous.