- Criminals are using Gumtree to target consumers, it has been revealed
- Site does not require users to register or provide their name and address
- This means fraudsters can remain anonymous while preying on victims
- Comes after young mother tried to sell her four-month-old baby online
Police receive 250 crime and fraud allegations a week connected to the online ‘small ads’ service Gumtree.
After a young mother tried to sell her four-month-old baby on the website, it has now emerged that criminals are using Gumtree to target consumers.
Many people turned to the site to find bargain Christmas presents and January is expected to see a surge in people using it to sell unwanted gifts.
But there are concerns that eBay-owned Gumtree does not require users to register or provide their name and address, allowing fraudsters to remain anonymous while preying on innocent victims.
It was revealed in Saturday’s Daily Mail that a 20-year-old woman had tried to sell her son on Gumtree for £150,000. But growing evidence from court cases and police reports shows criminals use the site to:
- Turn stolen items into cash
- Target people for robbery if they are selling high value items
- Tempt people to locations to buy or sell things, then rob them
- Con people into paying via bank transfer but never deliver items
- Trick people into paying rent deposits on flats which do not belong to them
- Find vulnerable women to sexually assault
The company reports such crimes to the National Fraud Authority, which generates a crime reference number.
But Gumtree then uses the Data Protection Act to refuse to provide the victim with any details.
In theory, the National Fraud Authority vets the reports and passes details to police for investigation. But three in four victims never hear from the police.
The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau said there were 19,530 reports of fraud and cyber-crime in October alone.
More than one in 20, 997, had a link to Gumtree – 249 a week or 32 a day. The more widely used eBay had a connection to 1,483 cases – almost 50 a day.
But eBay guarantees customers will get their goods or money back when there is a fraud. There is no such protection for Gumtree users.
Citizens Advice called for Gumtree to require all users to set up accounts with verifiable names and addresses to combat the crimewave.
Gillian Guy, of the charity, said: ‘It’s not enough for these websites to say “it wasn’t me” when things go wrong. Online marketplaces need to take more responsibility for what goes on in their name, by being more transparent and strengthening protections for consumers.’
Gumtree said the safety of its users is a ‘top priority’, but a spokesman added: ‘As with any form of classifieds listing… it is impossible to prevent crime completely.’
The firm claimed the number of fraud cases is less than half the 249 a week suggested by police figures.