Internet Scams: How to Spot and Avoid Online Fraud Schemes

  | 10 min read

It’s easy to avoid an internet scam

We’ve all heard stories from family members, WhatsApp groups, and co-workers, of people who got scammed online. In fact, we may have been victims of an online fraud scheme ourselves. Whether a person is told to send a recruiter money in order to get a job, or they were sold a plot of land at a price too good to be true, getting scammed is devastating for both the wallet and ego.

But the thing is, as more and more people in Tanzania start to use the internet to find, buy, and sell products and services, more scammers than ever before have started targeting these internet users with false offers. Scammers are flocking the internet not just because they can find a wide range of people they can trick, but also because it’s difficult to get caught. Simply put, the anonymity people have online has created a perfect environment for scammers to thrive.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that you should stop purchasing and selling things online, instead, you should be smart about how you make decisions on the internet. In fact, avoiding online scams is easier than it may seem.  Here’s how.

Avoid scams when buying products and /or services

Nowadays, it’s becoming increasingly common to purchase products and services directly online or through sellers who only have online stores. While big, notable companies like AliExpress and Amazon have security measures in place to detect scams, there are many other private sellers on social media platforms, personal websites, and buy and sell sites, who may just be scammers. Luckily, there are a number of ways to detect them.

1. Use a trusted and verified platform

The best way to avoid scammers is to first only buy from well-established and reliable platforms that have some security measures to protect users.

For instance, ZoomTanzania has a team of moderators who evaluate and follow-up on all listings. They make sure the contact information is accurate, they look up the company, they contact the sellers to verify their information. Nonetheless, even with all these efforts to verify the authenticity of all the people who advertise on the site, it’s still important for you to also protect yourself.

2. Learn more about the company and/or seller

Before you make a purchase it’s important to do some research on the company. To start off, perform a Google search on them; Are there any product reviews out there? Do they have a website, social media pages, business listing?

If they don’t have any online presence outside of the product they are selling you, then you should be alarmed, because what business doesn’t at least have a Facebook account?

Also, if they offer contact information and a physical address, look it up on Google to see where exactly it is. If you know people in that area, call, and ask them if they’ve heard of the company.

Note: A reputable company will have nothing to hide and have all their contact information easily available to you online, whereas a scammer will try and provide you with as little information as possible.

3. Get someone on the phone from the company

Once you look up the company or seller and find more details about them online, it’s time you get someone from the company on the phone. Ask some follow-up questions about the product and the business itself. This is the time for you to listen to your instincts and get a ‘vibe’ of the seller. Do they answer all your questions with ease, or do they hesitate? Do they seem to be hiding something?

4. Check out the product in person

If you are buying products from a classifieds site like ZoomTanzania then it’s best to check out the products in person – especially if it is your first time interacting with a particular seller. This is absolutely necessary for high-value purchases like land, a car, or property: make sure to go with an inspector and follow the necessary protocols before any exchange of money happens.

5. Don’t accept shady offers

Sometimes, our eagerness to clutch at a seemingly good deal, it gets us in trouble. For instance, someone offers to get you a job interview at a reputable company if you give them ‘a tip’*, or promises to get you some needed paperwork rather than you going through the regular procedure, and then disappears with your money without fulfilling the agreement. Simply put, avoid getting yourself mixed up in under the table deals, since if you get scammed, you have no claim because you were also participating in illegal activities.

*A tip: Another word for bribe

6. Don’t give your credit card details on the phone, text, or email

Once you are confident with both the product and seller, make sure that you also have safe and traceable payment methods like mobile banking. Don’t give them your credit or debit card information, unless they have a verified online system for making purchases.

Also, do not share your address, location, and family details with the seller, as they may use this with the details of your card to commit identity and/or bank fraud.

Avoid scams when selling products and /or services

While buyers are often the victims of scams, from time to time, sellers can also be targeted by frauds. So if you are a private seller of goods and services online make sure you:

1. Meet customers in public places

Sometimes criminals will contact sellers and arrange to meet them with the product in a secluded area in order to rob them. Avoid this by meeting customers in a public place with lots of people, and preferably law enforcement nearby. If the buyer hesitates then don’t go through with the transaction.

2. Don’t accept checks for payment

To avoid getting bad checks, require all buyers to either pay cash (for small purchases) or through mobile banking.

3. Ask for identification when necessary

For large purchases like cars, heavy machinery and electronics, make sure the seller gives you a copy of identification for your records. This could be a driver’s license, voter registration card, or passport. The identification may come in handy if anything goes wrong with the payment, or if the customers try and claim that you didn’t give them the product.

Avoid scams when looking for jobs

With the high level of unemployment in Tanzania, it’s easy to get desperate and do whatever you are asked to get a job. Well, scammers are aware of this and have increasingly been targeting eager job seekers with false job advertisements.  So, if you are looking for a job, make sure you:

1. Don’t send money for an application or interview

The first thing you will notice in a false job advertisement is that the employer will charge you a fee to send your application. Don’t fall for this, you should never pay to be considered for a job. The only scenario where a payment may be made, is if you have enlisted the services of  a recruitment agency to find you a job, and they charge you a fee for their services. Nonetheless, the fee recruitment agencies charge is usually paid monthly and not based on individual job openings.

Moreover, the more sophisticated scammers may not ask for a fee to receive your job application but may call to tell you that your application was successful and you are eligible for an interview, BUT you must pay a fee for it. Once again, don’t fall for it. Even if they tell you that they are some tests you have to pay for. No respectable company will require job candidates to incur these costs.

2. Research the company and recruitment agency

Before you apply for a position research the company online to learn more about it. This will not only help you put together a great job application, but it’s also a way to figure out the validity of the company.

You see, nowadays, very few legitimate companies don’t have some sort of online presence. So, if you can’t find anything about the company online, or through your contacts, you should be concerned.

3. Don’t give personal details not usually required in job applications

The typical job description may ask you for your name, postal address, and contact information. Sometimes the employer will also want to know your age, nationality, and maybe even your birthday. But rarely will they ask you for unusual personal details like your physical appearance, what type of car your drive, and your current residential address. So, if you find that some of the persona details the employer is asking for can compromise your security, then they may be a scammer trying to identify and locate you in order to rob you or commit identity theft.

What to do when you suspect a scammer

While scammers will continue to try their luck, we can also help bring them down. So if you detect a scam, don’t keep it to yourself and let other people fall victim to it. Instead, make sure you;

1. Let the hosting website know

The first thing you should do when you detect a scam is contact customer service of the hosting website and notify them of the page. So for instance, if you find a job opening on ZoomTanzania that you think is fake, then you should contact customer service at +255 768 982 800 or click the ‘report abuse or error’ button at the bottom of the page.

Customer service will then follow up and confirm if the listing is a scam. Once this happens they’ll take down the listing and notify the police.

2. Report it to the police and Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA)

However, in cases whereby the website itself seems like a scam, for instance, a website that sells cars from Japan for a ridiculously cheap price, then you should notify the police and TCRA right away.

TCRA is a government agency tasked with regulating the activities of all users, providers, and operators of all mediums of communication, including online. So if you suspect a scam or fall victim to one, you can file a complaint with them (in addition to a police report), and they’ll look into the matter.

If the police and/or TCRA confirm that it’s a scam and catch the person then you would’ve assisted in preventing other innocent online users from getting scammed. Nevertheless, even if they don’t catch the scammer they still have the ability to take down the site.

Listen to your instincts

The thing is, each of us has that internal alarm clock that goes off when we feel that a deal is too good to be true or when there is something fishy about someone we are interacting with. So, in addition to following these tips, it is of most importance that you listen to your gut when you are online.

So, if your inner voice is telling you, why would a 3-bedroom apartment in Masaki be only TZS 500,000/month? Or why would this company looking for an administrative assistant require me to pay TZS 30,000 for the interview and test fee? Don’t ignore it, instead, trust the ‘why’ and do further research. If you take these precautions then you will surely be able to avoid getting scammed on the internet, and instead find and sell all the goods and services you want.

Iman Lipumba
A digital storyteller, experienced in creating content that improves website visibility on search engines, enhances the user experience, and nurtures brand loyalty. With a background in the social sciences, an expert in researching complex ideas, and communicating them in engaging language to multiple audiences.