Staying vigilant when buying online

As promised in my previous post, I will be sharing how scammers make use of online marketplace platform to scam unknowing buyers. Most of the content below are derived from my experience in running GameTrader.SG and GadgetTrader.SG.

Rise of consumer-to-consumer trading platform

A few years back, Yahoo Auction was arguably the king of online trading platform in Singapore. Even Ebay was not a strong competition to Yahoo Auction at that time. Online classified such as 88db and GumTree were always there too but they never gained critical mass or become super popular. Yahoo Auction Singapore was then shut down in 2008 and the popularity of C2C marketplace declined.

Fast forward to today, there are now many platforms for people to buy and sell their stuff. Amongst them are general trading platforms such as Carousell, Qoo10 and the recent Trezo by SPH. There are also more dedicated ones like SgCarMartGameTrader.SG and GadgetTrader.SG which cater to a specific genre of items.

Of course the most impressive platform is none other than Carousell which raised $6M late last year and have experienced tremendous growth in terms of user base.

Most sellers on these platform are genuine individuals. However, online scams are on the rise and the authorities have even created website to educate the public. You may think that you are an experienced online shopper and you will not fall for such scams. You maybe wrong.

Tell tale signs of a scammer

a) Price of goods is un-un-un-believably cheap

The most easy give-away of a scammer which most people tends to ignore is goods sold at ridiculously cheap price.

Cheap PS4

For example, you saw this ad online on a PS4 that cost only SGD400. A quick google will reveal that a typical PS4 would cost above $500. Furthermore the set is brand new! Sounds too good to be true? Yes it is too good to be true!

Typically the seller will only contact you via email or private message (if it is present in the trading platform) so as to hide his identity. He will ask you to transfer the money to a bank account and promise to deliver the goods to you.

After some time, you realised that the item did not reach you. So you contacted the seller again and he mentioned that the item is stuck at the custom and he would need you to transfer more money to him. And so you did. Soon after you realised that you have been conned, you tried to contact the seller again but there will be no more replies. A police report is your next best option.

How to avoid

To prevent yourself from getting scammed, always checked the market price of the item of interest before committing to any purchase. If the price is way lower than market price, exercise caution. Ask for a meet-up and before making the payment.

b) Seller uses only email to contact you and not via mobile number

The next tell tale sign of a scammer is his mode of contact. Typically, reputable sellers and shops are more than willing to contact you via mobile number since it is the fastest and simplest mode of contact. As such contact numbers are traceable by the police, scammers would prefer to use anonymised mode of contact such as email or any private messaging system on the platform.

If you asked for the contact number and the seller refused to share, it may be best to walk away from the deal.

c) Making payments via Paypal/Alipay or even bank account

Other methods includes payment via facilities such as Paypal and Alipay. A scammer will typically ask you to make top-up to their accounts as mode of payment. Unless you are very sure that the seller is reputable, refrain from doing that.

Transferring money to bank accounts are generally traceable. There have been a few cases where scammers asked buyers to transfer money to a bank account. Turns out that the bank account belongs to companies that have a prepaid wallet system. Some websites such as 65daigou allow their user to transfer money into their bank account as a form of top up for their digital wallet. The credits within the wallet can then be withdrawn by their user or used for purchases. An email is all it takes to create a user account on such sites. So do not think that bank transfer are fully traceable.

Transferring money to foreign banks may be even more difficult for the police to take action. So think twice before sending money overseas.

How to avoid

The best way to avoid such scam is to do cash-on-delivery. Pay in cash only upon seeing the goods. Meeting up the seller is recommended. If you really need to do bank account transfer, you can do a quick google of the bank account number that was passed to you. A private bank account should not appear on any websites.

d) User rating

This is a bit of a no brainer. Of course you would want to deal with someone with a good user rating on the platform. However, you should also be mindful that not all ratings may be genuine. There is nothing to stop a scammer from creating multiple accounts. Use the ratings as a guideline but not as a foolproof way of filtering out scammers.

User rating

Always stay vigilant

I know this article may sounds like a message from the police but I can assure you that I am not working in the police force. Coming from an operator of online marketplace platform, I feel really bad whenever I received emails from the users that they have been scammed on my platform. While we have messages to warn user of potential scammers, some time the system may fail to pick up such individuals. It will still be best for our users to understand how such scammers operate and avoid them.

As we get more accustomed to transacting online, we should always stay alert and be mindful that there will always be scammers out there in the wild. So the next time you buy anything online, check and double check the credential of the seller before you make the purchase.


Disclaimer: The writer operates both the GameTrader.SG and GadgetTrader.SG platform in Singapore.

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Towards a Smart Nation – Inspiring the young to learn coding

Just for fun, sharing a quick build of Flappy Bird on HTML5 that I have created over a weekend. It is pretty basic and the code is rather simple. You can play it on your Desktop/Laptop or Mobile Phone

HTML5 Flappy Bird

There are actually many HTML5 flappy bird version out there. But this version uses only basic HTML5 so it should be easy to understand. I’ve made this game for fun and hope that I can inspire younger Singaporeans who do not know coding to start learn coding. Coding is not difficult. If anyone of you are interested, just leave a comment, I will passed you the code. Or you can simply view the source from the links given above.

Why learning coding is and will continue to be important

Learning how to code trains the mind to solve problems and will be an essential skills in the future. Even our Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has coded his very own Sudoku Solver. Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan has also translated that code into javascript. To put things to perspective, the recent program that President Obama has written, drew squares on screen. Of course, we are not doing a comparison of whose leaders code better but rather how Singaporeans can take inspiration from our own leaders to start realising the importance of coding.

Improving productivity has always been the cornerstone of Singapore’s labour workforce. And the enabler will have to be technology. Eventually, the winners will be those who can harness and leverage on the almost infinite capability of computers and robots. People who can give better instruction to computers or build better solution with technology will win the game. Think Google which built one of the arguably best search algorithm. Or Netflix, with its strong recommendation engine that keeps you glued to their service.

How to inspire our young to learn coding

Coding is not as difficult as you think

To inspire the young, I believe that we would have to start with a change in the mindset.

Learning coding is not as difficult or geeky as one might imagine

Most codes are not as esoteric as what our PM Lee has written but are based on simple logic. In fact, one of the basic foundation of programming is the simple “IF…ELSE…” statement. “If the bird hits pipe, end the game, else continue with the game.” Simple logic like that can be built into a program and not necessarily complex algorithm that may seem daunting to most beginner. Of course, more complex algorithm can be slowly picked up once the basic foundation is laid.

Learning coding can be fun

Yes! It can be fun! Coding is not like learning how to type which can get boring. Coding is about translating your ideas from your mind to something tangible that you can see and perhaps feel. It requires a creative process to first think about the problem and then the solution. The sense of achievement and euphoria that a programmer can experience can equal that to scoring a straight A’s in your final exam. What’s more, you can share your work with other people and for them to benefit from what you have created!

For starter, I would recommend building something that you would love to build. Don’t follow some online tutorial to work on their sample projects. Think about an idea. It can be a game like my flappy bird, or a fun program like ‘Love Calculator’. Building on such project will make it more enjoyable.

Learning coding helps you understand your school work

A typical Singaporean kids have to handle so many subjects in school. It is easy for them to see ‘programming’ as yet another subject. But for me, it is not. Programming helps to bring in what you have learned in Math, Science and even Art together. Take the example of Flappy Bird. In it, physics and math comes into play. Physics is needed to calculate how the bird will experience ‘gravity’ within the canvas (v=u+at, F=MA etc.). Math is needed to calculate the various co-ordinate to draw the birds and pipes (remember your geometry class?). If you don’t like the bird, you can create your own flappy chicken using your own artistic talent as well! There are many examples of how you can put what you’ve learnt in classes to use in building an app.

Towards a Smart Nation

I am very encouraged by the Government’s push towards a smart nation with emphasis on the need to learn coding. Being an engineer by training, I would love to see more successful engineers in Singapore building top notch app or solution for the world. For that to take roots, let us focus on our young and build a strong foundation for our Smart Nation.

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