A marine biologist, an oceanographer and an astronaut walk into a bar. What do they have in common? They’re not real, unlike the scammer telling the joke.
Here’s five pro-tips for spotting scammer contact.
Trade Me’s Policing team do a lot of background work to keep our members safe and one of their responsibilities is to hunt down freight-forwarding scammers. As experts in scammer patterns and behaviour, we’re great at distinguishing the interested Ian from the scammy Sally.
Scammers often target vehicle and boat listings on Trade Me, so if you have a listing or are thinking about listing one in the future, here are some tips from the Policing team.
Please note: the examples given are actual numbers and names used by scammers, but this is not an exhaustive list.
Pro-tip one: New Zealand and Australia only!
In general we only allow members based in New Zealand or Australia to use the site. The only exception to this is when a member has had prior approval from our Trust and Safety Team, and those members will only be selling, not buying.
This means if you get contact from someone who says they’re in the UK and want to buy your car for their son in Dubai, they’re a scammer.
Pro-tip two: watch out for text messages
Scammers will usually send a text message as the first form of contact. It will normally express interest in your vehicle or boat and will ask you to send them an email. The easiest way to spot a fraud is that these messages will come from a number like the following:
- +44 – the calling code for the UK.
- 3070 (or similar) – in general these numbers are linked to a text service that helps users send the same identical message to multiple numbers.
- +01 – calling code for the US.
- +234 – calling code for Nigeria.
- + 40 – calling code for Romania.
- Words rather than a number – like ‘Trade Me’, ‘Jack’, ‘Gary’. These are similar to 3070 as they’re sent from a programme designed to send the same message to multiple numbers.
Scammers have also been known to fake a common New Zealand mobile number (021, 022, 027 etc.) so your best bet is to proceed with caution if someone sends you a generic sounding text message asking you to email them.
Pro-tip three: scammer email addresses. Google is your friend!
First and foremost this is not an exhaustive list because scammers create new email address all the time, but here is a list of the well-known scammer email addresses floating around at the moment:
If you’re suspicious of an email address and it doesn’t appear in the list above, do a quick Google search of the address. For example, when you search for ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ the first result is from the Department of Internal Affairs regarding a text scammer.
Pro-tip 4: backstories
Scammer backstories are a constant source of entertainment for the Policing team. Scammers come up with some weird, wonderful and outright insane stories to try and trick our members. So far our favourites have been Grace the ‘Oceanist’ and Bill the astronaut, who was supposedly sending messages from the International Space Station.
Here are some common scammer personas to keep an eye out for:
Name: Chris Rock
Location: On holiday
Backstory: Works for the Auckland Deaf Society but is conducting meetings overseas and he wants your vehicle to be shipped to Dubai/China.
Name: James Anthony
Location: Darwin City
Backstory: He is buying it locally in NZ as a gift for his son in Dubai. He’s on holiday at the moment so he can’t see the vehicle and he wants to arrange shipping to China
Name: Trevor Wescott
Location: The ocean
Occupation: Oil rig worker
Backstory: Buying a vehicle for his daughter. Due to the nature of his work he can’t make phone calls or access his internet banking, but he can email. He doesn’t have internet banking, but does use PayPal.
Name: Tricha and Ray Ford/Grace and Bill Robinson
Location: Great Barrier Island/Australia
Occupation: Retired couple
Backstory: Away on Holiday for their 20th/30th Wedding Anniversary and want to buy a vehicle for their son who is living in London.
Name: Karen Richard
Location: China Sea
Occupation: Marine engineer
Backstory: Away on business, want a car for when she gets back but needs it shipped to China.
Name: Linda Megan
Location: Offshore/China Sea/Bahamas
Backstory: Leaving New Zealand for work tomorrow, but wants to buy the vehicle for her son who lives in Texas in the USA. She can’t speak on the phone due to lack of reception in the middle of the ocean, but has access to the internet to use email and PayPal but not internet banking.
Name: Joseph Bernank/Sergent Patterson Milton
Occupation: Officer in the Provincial Reconstruction Team
Backstory: Returning home from his deployment in Afghanistan with the NZDF and needs your vehicle shipped to his home in London.
Name: Thomas Cook
Occupation: Red Cross worker
Backstory: In the Philippines to help with Typhoon relief project and need a vehicle to use while in the Philippines.
Pro-tip 5: who buys vehicles without looking at them?
Scammers often buy vehicles without looking at them. Because they are not actually buying the vehicle.
Many people would send a friend, family member or a trusted mechanic to check out a car before buying it to make sure you’re not selling a lemon. Proceed with caution if someone is happy with the asking price and condition of your vehicle without looking at it. Although this isn’t to say people don’t buy vehicles unseen – it’s just an indicator to watch out for.
If you’re keen to hear more pro-tips straight from the horse’s mouth, the site Policing team have become quite good at spotting scams. If you’re concerned about anyone who has contacted you please don’t hesitate to touch base with us. As the old saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.