About the ScamBusters
Ten years ago we were just a group of traders who frequented TradeMe - now the largest online auction site in New Zealand. We all enjoyed trading on the site, but we couldn't help but notice an increasing number of scam auctions being listed there. For almost a year we operated quietly in the background, identifying scams and rallying enough support to have them "voted off". Most scams didn't survive for very long.
How big was the problem?
The image on the right shows the result of a TradeMe search of expired listings for "Sony Vaio" - in 2003/4 this was the most popular of the scammers' regular lines. The withdrawn auctions (in red) show the extent of these scams on the site. Each one of those auctions was a scam that set out to rip off kiwis.
TradeMe changed their system so that auctions which were withdrawn by the company merely displayed as "closed". But if you clicked on the auction number you'd discover whether it closed naturally or was dragged screaming from the live auction area.
After suffering a couple of large scams worth more than $20,000 each, TradeMe decided to hide withdrawn auctions from view. From their point of view that concealed the extent of the scams on their site. However it also prevented researchers like us from measuring the dollar value of bigger scams and aids scammers by covering their tracks. Like many TradeMe corporate decisions of this era, this one really smelled bad.
By the beginning of 2004 we were catching up to 50 scams in a single day. Our amateur scambusting had become a fulltime job and we asked TradeMe management to take over the role. The site's owners have access to more detailed information than us and removing obvious scams the moment they are listed would be a lot easier for them. Unfortunately TradeMe management took a completely different line and decided to silence our core team - you can read about this in our history pages.
The short answer is yes, if only they had the will. The ScamBusters suggested to TradeMe that a simple solution called IP Lookup would block overseas scammers from listing on the site. While it's only about 98% accurate, this simple measure would be invisible to genuine traders and would stop almost all of the overseas scammers in their tracks. For unknown reasons, the people who run TradeMe don't want to know.
Could TradeMe really stop these scams?
You'd have to ask them... we can't figure it out. We certainly don't believe that they're in bed with the scammers but their attitude to our IP lookup proposal moved from an initial stoney silence to a blanket silencing of our members and the absolute removal of the word "SCAM" from the TradeMe site. The same mentality still appears to exist within TM management today.
Why weren't TradeMe Interested?
You bet we can. In our first few years we exposed thousands of scams and saved kiwis tens of thousands of dollars. We've evolved into an online community of more than four and a half thousand people providing free advice in a timely manner, helping scam victims to file Police complaints and in some cases to recover either their money or goods which have not been delivered. We're proud of our reputation.
Can the ScamBusters make a difference?
TradeMe security has improved over the years, particularly once Chris Budge took over the role. However there are still measures the company could take to improve user safety. While there are still scams on TradeMe our group will be around for a bit longer.