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Unsuspecting Kiwis aid thieves: The dangers of buying ‘discount’ phones from Facebook groups

The New Zealand Telecommunications Forum (TCF) has issued a warning to consumers buying bargain second-hand mobile devices through channels such as Facebook groups.

The TCF operates a mobile blacklisting service, so any reported lost, stolen, or fraudulently obtained devices are disabled across all mobile networks in New Zealand.

The TCF website also has a lookup service where you can check the serial number of any device and see whether it has been blacklisted.

But the system is not fool-proof and some stolen devices do slip through the cracks.

Geoff Thorn, TCF CEO says, “If a price seems too good to be true, it usually is. 

“While the vast majority, over 90%, of lost or stolen phones are blacklisted almost immediately, phones obtained and sold through fraudulent activities can be blacklisted at a later date.”

The telco that sold the device has up to 120 days from an occurrence, such as a missed bill payment, to classify a device as fraudulently obtained and blacklist it across all NZ networks.

The blacklisting delay gives retailers time to investigate fraud and protects consumers suffering financial hardship from being wrongly classified as fraudsters and having their devices blacklisted.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the majority of fraudulent devices are being sold through Facebook groups, as buy/sell websites sites such as Trade Me have clamped down on fraudulent activities.

Mobile providers receive multiple calls per week, an increase from past years, from consumers who have no idea why a phone they purchased from Facebook has now stopped working.

A TCF representative says, “The fraudsters are quite clever in making the sale appear legitimate.

“The excuses used to justify the sale often seem genuine at first glance, as well as this usually the buyer of the device is only saving $100 - $200 off the original retail value, which is a very small saving for a phone that only works for three months.”

Facebook is also being used to recruit mules to purchase phones.

Postings to Facebook groups offer cash in exchange for new phones purchased on contract, with the fraudster claiming to have a contact at the mobile provider who will wipe any evidence of the contract.

According to the report, this fictitious friend often fails to wipe the contract and the mule is obligated to pay for the device.

Statistics show that while these cases are the minority, at less than 6% of all blacklisting cases, there have been almost 10,000 cases reported as fraud since the service began in 2013, which is still a significant number.

Consumers are encouraged to check any second-hand mobile before purchasing it, using a free lookup service available on the TCF website.

Geoff continues, “Buying through unconventional retailers such as Facebook groups, pawn shops or mobile traders increases the risk of buying a fraudulently obtained phone, even if the serial number hasn’t yet been blacklisted.”

“Buying through an established retailer or mobile operator is the only way to be sure your device is legitimate and your device has not been obtained through fraud."

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