The Gumtree Blog

The Psychology of Scamming: Trust & Safety in the Online Marketplace launch event

Monday 10 July 2017, by
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The issue of scamming has long been a problem in society – ever since the first humans started bartering for good. And yet for all its good, the internet has opened up a much wider audience, and more opportunity for these fraudsters to operate.

Whilst the vast majority of users have a safe and successful experience using Gumtree, online marketplaces are used by some criminals as a hunting ground to defraud our users.

Gumtree invests in tech to spot fake ads and continues to work closely with law enforcement. Advice on staying safe online is available on the website and 24/7 customer service is available to users. Yet despite these measures, scamming continues to be an issue for all online marketplaces.

As part of the report, Gumtree surveyed members of the public, with the results throwing up a few surprises – like even when people suspect they are being scammed early in a transaction, more than a third (35%) continue the payment process due to the item being of low value, with three in 10 (29%) seeing it as a bargain worth the risk.

The true cost of online scamming in the UK was calculated at £1.59 billion pounds. That’s the same cost as the northern line extension from Kennington to Battersea that’s currently underway beneath south London.

Guests at the event – who ranged from organisations including Get Safe Online, MET Police and National Cyber Security Centre – were shown videos of self-declared “reasonably savvy” members of the public who had been ripped off by fraudsters on online marketplaces.

Two of the country’s leading cyber academics reflected on these case studies and discussed why and how the human condition is susceptible to online scamming. One of those – Professor Angela Sasse from University College London – noted that whilst a lot of consumer guidance on scamming exists, it is too general and often contradictory. While our second expert, Professor Monica Whitty from Warwick University, noted that warnings don’t necessarily help protect victims or change their cyber security behaviour, as it can be presented later down the track – once the user is already hooked.

In order to gain a real insight into the true psychology of scamming, the man once dubbed ‘Britain’s Greatest Fraudster’ by the media offered guests a first-hand perspective on how criminals con people on online marketplaces.

The event was a key milestone not just for Gumtree but for the industry in recognising the scale of the issue of online scamming, and the challenges in overcoming it. Speaking with guests over canapés after the event, there was a general consensus that industry and law enforcement need to work together more closely to help keep people safer online.

Morten Heuing, General Manager of Gumtree UK, summed up the event with these words:

“We need to overcome the embarrassment factor and change our mindset when it comes to scamming. Within the industry we need to collaborate more and share information. We want to work with you guys to tackle the issue head-on. In the words of Winston Churchill, “we shall never surrender”.

Download Gumtree’s Trust and Safety Report here


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