Beware con artists when booking a holiday.

Johannesburg - According to free online advertising site Gumtree, the biggest online scam is the one involving a fake rental agent.

They advertise holiday accommodation or a residential flat or house to rent, at a seemingly bargain price, having copied the details from a genuine ad and added their cell number as the contact, or they just pretend that a property, any property, is available for renting, having somehow sourced some photos of it.

The idea, says Gumtree SA’s head of marketing, Claire Cobbledick, is to pressurise those who respond to pay a deposit to secure it, before they have seen the property.

“There is such a huge demand for rented accommodation at the moment, that many people are willing to pay a deposit to secure a place without seeing it first,” she said. “Big mistake.”

The fake agents invent creative excuses for why they – and the prospective tenant – cannot gain access to the dwelling, such as “the previous tenant was supposed to drop off the keys but hasn’t yet”.

If you’re caught by an online scam, or an advertiser fails to send you what you paid for, lodge a complaint.

“We do require some evidence that there has been unscrupulous practice or non-delivery,” Cobbledick said. “We then are able to stop a user from advertising on the site on a permanent basis. A response goes through to that advertiser, notifying them of this block, and they are given an opportunity to contest it. If a case has been opened with SAPS, we’ll hand over all information that we have, on request, to SAPS as well.”

Online trading sites are fantastic as long as you know how to protect yourself – both as a buyer and as a seller. It boils down to doing your homework – never blindly trust that what you’re told is the truth. Do your own checks. And do them properly.

Cobbledick said less than 1 percent of the 2.5 million adverts posted on Gumtree every month resulted in complaints, but given the volume, that’s a huge number to deal with. Gumtree has customer service people on duty seven days a week, 365 days a year. If you spot a suspicious Gumtree advert, hit the “Flag this ad” button on the advert and it will be investigated.

If you need to get in touch with Gumtree’s customer service team or report a buyer, visit – there is a live chat and e-mail feature available.

This will be routed to a priority desk and the complaint will be investigated.

The Star