Practicing caution against online scams

August 26, 2021

In today’s time and age, it can become impossible to determine how genuine businesses are. The global proliferation of the internet has allowed con artists to expand their craft to a widely different market and reach previously untapped consumers. Many times, their creative marketing often results in consumers being duped out of their hard-earned cash with little to no possibility of redress. Such fly-by-night traders have become more common in Fiji with a growing number of individuals purporting to be business proprietors on social media targeting vulnerable consumers. 

What is a fly-by-night trader?

These are operations by individuals or companies that offer services or products without being authorized to do so. Most times they are unregistered, operate for a short period of time and are only interested in making quick profits. They cannot be trusted as they are likely to stop operating without notice. A fly-by-night business or worker does not offer good products or services and is likely to avoid paying debts or honour agreements by leaving the area they usually operate from. They are usually recalcitrant, having no regard for authority and their main motive is to earn quick money without any obligation or promise of return to the consumer. In essence they are scammers. On online platforms such as Social Media, or through advertisements on websites, these traders usually operate under fake profiles marketing goods, services and skills they do not possess and are unlikely to deliver.

Case Studies

The Council received a complaint from a consumer who fell victim to a con-artist whereby, the individual in question posed as a freelancing sales agent on social media and offered to sell PVC water tanks and treated pine posts. The con-artist used his charm and persuasion to extract $1000 cash for these items and failed to supply it. It was later found that the individual in question was a notorious con-artist who had been previously charged with multiple counts of impersonation, theft, absconding bail and obtaining financial advantage by deception.

In another case, a complainant purchased an iPhone 6 Plus for $450 from an online trader. The complainant assumed she was conversing with a female on the messenger platform but was surprised to find that the item was delivered by a male. She later found that the phone was iCloud locked and she wouldn’t be able to access it. Attempts to reach the respondent was futile and the case was later referred to the Police.

In a similar case, a complainant had engaged the services of an individual online, to build a cupboard. He had paid a $200 deposit and was required to pay the balance after the item was delivered. The complainant waited for the item to be delivered to no avail. He was also unaware of the respondent’s name and the contact provided was no longer working making it difficult to reach the trader. The case was later referred for enforcement.

How to spot online fly-by-night traders

The way in which fly-by-night traders develop their relation with clients or consumers can provide clues which help detect whether or not they provide a legitimate service. These can include but is not limited to:

• The individuals tend to have a special skill in order to give credibility to investment offers, giving the appearance of command of knowledge and handling the technical jargon of the business without clearly explaining it.

• When speaking about the trade or potential investments for consumers, they do not attach importance to the risk factors or the challenges in delivering the service or product. For monetary investments they may consider the risk factors temporary and reduced in relation to the returns that could be obtained.

• They insist that the product or service can be provided immediately with the justification that the opportunity exists at that very moment and is unique. They could also claim to offer very low prices compared to normal businesses.

• They have no physical address for business and no concrete contact details for the business is provided.

• Fly-by-night operations can also be identified by the way they operate. Some ask for direct deposits into bank accounts without any proof of service rendered or products provided.

What can consumers do to avoid being swindled by fly-by-night traders?

• Find full and detailed information about the trader on:

o Location of business office

o Check with the registrar of companies for validation.

o Check the company’s website. The website may give you valuable information  such as location and contact of the company – allowing you to contact or visit the  company to verify its location and whether the company exists or not.

• Determine the reputation of the trader in the market

o Check for reviews and testimonials online

o Ask friends and family who have used their services

• Beware of impractical and unrealistic promises and always be aware of the prevailing market rates. If the cost of the service of product is significantly cheaper or overpriced, these should raise red flags and you should immediately do research into the business.

• Always insist on having proper documentation. These can be in the form of:

o Receipts clearly stating business name and addresses

o Contracts, clearly outlining parties involved and their respective addresses and  contact details

o Project plans if you’re for building projects with proper identifications used by  parties involved.

Consumers must always be on guard against these signs of a fraudulent entity and remember you can contact the Council on toll free number 155 or email should you require further assistance. Alternatively, you can lodge a complaint via the Consumer Council of Fiji Mobile App now available for download on Google Play.