Online Shopping Scams Surge in Belize: Buyers Left in Financial Woes
As the Christmas season quickly approaches, many shoppers are turning to online sites to make their purchases. But with every good idea, there are the grifters who will find loopholes, ways and means to prey on unsuspecting victims. Recently, our newsroom has received reports of several people conned on the famous Belize Buy and Sell Facebook platform as well as the Marketplace. The scamming of buyers has become a norm, and many are reeling from financial losses, while Police are having a challenge in bringing the conmen and women to face charges. We join Reporter Vejea Alvarez for a look at a case where a woman paid over two thousand dollars for a sofa set she will never receive.
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: People across the country are losing thousands of dollars to scammers, who have now developed a new way of swindling online shoppers. The cunning scheme involves three people. A legitimate buyer and seller, and a white-collar crook posing as both a fake buyer and seller. The grifter begins by posting a fake advertisement like this one which lures unsuspecting customers who may be enticed by a good deal. One Belize City woman explained that she fell victim to a scammer who robbed her of almost two thousand dollars.
Victim: “I sent the person a message asking about the price, how I could actually see the item. The person messaged me back and gave me the price but I couldn’t go see the item because they were not located in my area. I asked for the banking information they provided me with the banking information. The following day I went to the bank made the deposit took a picture of the deposit slip and sent it back to the person.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Little did she know that her money never made it to that person for their phony item, instead the crook made her deposit the money into someone else’s account who was selling another item online.
Victim: “The person just didn’t answer me back. So I kept messaging the person and messaged the person, I called the person on messenger and no answer, no text, nothing and this went on for about three days. When we called the account holder the account holder advised me that the item that I purchased via Facebook was given to John Doe.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Unfortunately, this woman is only one of the many persons who have fallen victim to online scammers. Superintendent of Police Osmond Mortis heading the Police’s IT and Cyber Crime Unit explained that over the past two years, cybercrimes have increased tremendously.
Osmond Mortis, Head of IT and Cyber Crime Unit, Belize Police Department: “There are legitimate business people out there but also there are those who are out there to deceive and make quick or easy money without providing the product that these people are seeking. So what we have found out is that these scammers prey on those people who are too trusting so you have to be careful out there.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Scammers use various means to hide their identity and remain unknown. However, Mortis says the police can use state-of-the-art technology to track these thieves and bring them to justice.
Osmond Mortis, Head of IT and Cyber Crime Unit, Belize Police Department: “We have tracked them down in the past and we will continue to do so. It is at times challenging but not impossible alright ? What we do encourage the victims to do is as soon as possible make a report so that an investigation can be launched, that a statement can be recorded and we will do what we need to do to follow up on those investigations.”
I understand that once these persons get the finances and they then spend it it then becomes money laundering ?
Osmond Mortis, Head of IT and Cyber Crime Unit, Belize Police Department: “Well it becomes money laundering depending on what is done with that money indeed. So you know sometimes when these things happen the money changes hands, it’s not not one person who is involved in most cases it’s a group and you know money is sent to an account and then it goes somewhere else but that is where the investigation comes in.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: But for many people, once the money is sent, the money is gone. Leaving them feeling stuck, stressed, out, and downright outraged.
Victim: “Why will you take my money ? That is my hard working money. I went to work 8 to 5 sometimes I don’t even take lunch break.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: To ensure you don’t fall victim to the many social media scams, Superintendent Mortis says there are a few dos and don’ts you should follow.
Osmond Mortis, Head of IT and Cyber Crime Unit, Belize Police Department: “When it comes to purchasing items online yes you will communicate with that person but the advice is ensure that you know who you’re dealing with before you go ahead and deposit any funds to any account. You know so I have to say buyer beware. Be careful out there, check your items first and be sure that you have something tangible for what you’re purchasing.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Mortis added that meeting buyers in person at a safe public space is also encouraged. Vejea Alvarez, Love News.