I was really, really close to being scammed yesterday on Gumtree, which makes me sound like a huge moron. And in a way I was a huge moron. But still, the scheme was actually pretty advanced and interesting in hindsight.
The listing itself was simple. Some guy was selling a brand new, wrapped iPhone SE for $600, which is about $80 less than Kogan. Thinking back now, that was suspicious as hell, but I’m too trusting / gullible / dumb I guess. In my mind a factory sealed phone with a clear IMEI should have been fine, but I was wrong.
When I arrived I walked to the seller’s ‘front-door’, knocked, waited, then heard the seller calling my name from the street. It was sus, but again, residential address, I thought maybe the guy just didn’t want a stranger coming to his door. I checked the device IMEI to see if it was stolen, I checked the receipt that the guy gave me and when I was happy with everything not being clearly stolen I traded the guy my legit iPhone 6s Plus and went on my way.
Ten minutes down the road I setup the phone so that I could navigate home on Google Maps and started to feel uncomfortable about the swap.
I had a closer look at the receipt the guy had given me, which listed an Optus store as its place of origin, and the alarm bells started to ring. For one, the receipt had the buyer’s name and address blacked out with permanent marker. But because it was poorly blacked-out I could still read the buyer’s actual name and address and neither matched the Gumtree name or the listed address I’d visited to buy the phone.
At first, again being incredibly gullible, I thought, sure, maybe it’s a privacy thing. But I still started to feel sick at this point.
Further down the page of the receipt, more poorly blacked-out details started to stick out to me. For one, the phone had been purchased on a contract, alongside another phone on a separate line, and that contract had started a month earlier. The actual cash-exchange between the seller and the Optus store was $0, so I’m assuming it was a $0 upfront sale. Because the receipt was a month old I’m assuming the person paid for the first month of service to make the whole scheme seem legit to Optus.
A quick Google found plenty of threads with similar Gumtree experiences. Brand new iPhones and Samsung devices traded for cash. Dodgy sellers would trade phones they’d somehow received for a small upfront fee on contract, cancel the contract and then leave the purchaser with a phone blocked by Optus or Vodafone or whoever.
At this point I had cold feet, called the guy and addressed him by the name that he’d scribbled out on the Optus receipt. Luckily for me, he agreed that I could return it if I met him at his house again. I didn’t accuse him of anything, or raise my voice, but just said that I didn’t feel comfortable with the trade.
When I returned to the house I was sure that the guy wasn’t going to show up. I knocked on the door of the address he had given me and was met by a woman who basically said “I’ve had 100 people come here to buy phones, why does he put this as his address? I’m going to call the cops”.
I called the guy again, met him around the corner and, again super luckily, pretty calmly made the exchange.
TL;DR though: the guy was using a fake name, was waiting outside a house he didn’t own and was trading seemingly legit, though likely stolen phones for cash, or other phones in my case. I guess, according to my Breaking Bad memory, that could be referred to as phone laundering? Trading a stolen phone for a legit one, claiming that the phone sold had been stolen. It was genius, but also super freaky to realise that a brand-new, sealed phone from Optus could still be practically stolen.
So yeah, I’m an idiot for almost falling for the scam, but still, stay safe if you see a good eBay or Gumtree or even Facebook Marketplace deal, or even a bad one.
Because yeah, a fully-wrapped, legit-seeming phone might be stolen or part of a huge insurance, contract scheme like the one I ran into. Awesome!