Criminals are targeting Woza Online website owners who sell goods online by copying their sites and duping consumers by making them believe that they are buying from a legitimate business.
The Woza Online platform, an initiative of Google South Africa in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Vodacom and the Human Resource Development Department, assists small business owners to create their own websites and develop an online presence at no charge.
Gerd Naschenweng, chief technology officer at online marketplace Bidorbuy says the company experienced 13 instances recently where fraudsters abused the free platform to impersonate sellers.
“These fraudsters then use the sellers’ reputations to scam unsuspecting consumers by offering them expensive, high-end electronic devices at bargain prices,” says Naschenweng.
He says Bidorbuy was first alerted to the scams by buyers who fell victim to them and by legitimate sellers who had come across the sites and who wanted help to have them removed.
“Unfortunately buyers, thinking that they bought goods from a legitimate seller, lost out the most as money exchanged hands. As soon as we were made aware of the fraud issue, we alerted our customers through our communication channels,” says Naschenweng.
The alleged fraud was reported to Google South Africa, the DTI and Vodacom.
Coen Blignaut, who sells electronic equipment on Bidorbuy, says someone used his online presence and pretended to be him.
“It seems the fraudsters wanted to use me to verify their reputation as a seller.
Luckily a Bidorbuy buyer alerted me to the fake site. I did my research and called the number of the fake site and someone of oriental descent answered,” says Blignaut.
He then contacted Bidorbuy and the company then took it up with Google.
This action led to the removal of the fake site a few days later. “I was lucky that the site was closed down before I was scammed,” says Blignaut.
Google South Africa spokesperson Dorothy Ooko encouraged business owners to make use of the “report abuse” button at the bottom of each Woza Online site to report cases of abuse, so that these can then be investigated.
“It is not possible to check the suitability of every new website before it goes live, but we do conduct random checks and respond to complaints made through the ‘Report abuse’ button.”
She says any site caught breaking Google policies will be taken down.
For legal reasons, it is important that the owner of the site, who suspects fraud, to lodge a complaint, as they would have had the fraud occurred in “the offline world”.
However Naschenweng says he is not happy with Google’s platform to report fraud and abuse as Bidorbuy did not receive a reference number after having reported the issue.
Department of Trade and Industry spokesperson Sidwell Medupe says the department was not aware of fraudulent activity on the Woza Online platform.
“Now that this information has been brought to our attention, the department will assist alert small businesses,” says Medupe.
Simon Leps, chief executive officer of Fontera Digital Works, a company that develops customised e-commerce websites, says it is very hard to protect yourself against this type of fraud as you usually do not realise that it is happening until someone complains to you about being taken for a ride.
“It is best to register your own domains so you are in control of it and to regularly check the internet for any names or terms that relate to your business,” says Leps.