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Get smart against scammers


... according to the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce.

While much would-be fraud is the obvious work of amateurs, such schemes are gaining in frequency and sophistcation,  says Peter Kell, Deputy Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and Chairman of the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce.

Carsguide has joined forces with ACFT, a group of 21 Australian and New Zealand government agencies, to raise awareness of online fraud during National Consumer Fraud Week, which starts Monday.

Backed by more than 120 metropolitan, suburban and regional News Limited newspapers, Carsguide is Australia's biggest automotive brand.

"Online Safety is an issue Carsguide takes extremely seriously," Carsguide publisher Sue Klose says.

"We are constantly working with our online counterparts and government agencies to combat this industry issue. By partnering with the Consumer Fraud Taskforce, we aim to help educate and empower people with practical tools and information so they can buy and sell online with confidence. Carsguide's Safety Centre at Carsguide.com.au features a very useful guide to help protect users against fraud and enable them to buy and sell with confidence."

On the frontline Clarissa Pitsikas, the scourge of the few frauds foolish enough to try it on the Carsguide website. Clarissa personally verifies 30 to 40 online advertisements from buyers each day and advises Carsguide customers who call with examples of email inquiries they suspect.

"Usually I can tell simply by looking at the wording. They tend to be very similar," she says. They say 'I'm overseas', 'I'm buying this for my father-in-law', they want to pay through PayPal or Western Union. Anyone wanting to buy sight unseen, forget about it."

She has a bulging folder of banned internet addresses and suspect advertisers. One of her favourites is this response to an ad for Peugeot 407, grammar preserved:

"i want to buy this car but i am not in Australia right now because i went to France to go and Finish the divorce of me and my Husband over there But we are not yet through on this,While doing this the court have Frozen our account because when we are together we are using the same account so now i don't have Chance to transfer money from the account even can't be able to come to see the car.But the only way i can make this payment about this car is to pay you by Pay Pal"

Yeah, right ... Call Clarissa with one of these and its scrubbed on the spot.

Equally, suspect sellers get the third degree.

"If it looks legitimate I call every single caller to verify every single detail," she says. "If they don't add up, I cancel their ad. I check addresses and numbers on Google and White Pages. If it's an invalid address, phone number or the car is suspiciously under market value I cancel it.

"If there's is an inconsistency I call and email asking they call back. Nine times out of 10 they don't, so I cancel the ad. If they can't verify the registration number, email address, colour of the car, it's a giveaway. A few have tried to bribe me. 'If you let it run for week. I'll pay you this much ...' I just put the phone straight down."

The ACCC's SCAMwatch website contains detailed information about how consumers can protect themselves from online and other types of scams. Visit www.scamwatch.gov.au or call 1300 795 995.

Carsguide is a 2011 Principal Partner of the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce.