Lifelong stamp collector Frank Butler was scammed out of £1,800 of his savings when he arranged to buy a collection of stamps from an online seller.
He lost the money in a matter of seconds after he became the target of a fraudster.
Perhaps I should have known better, but unfortunately I learned the hard way
The 69-year-old from Portsmouth, who suffers from angina and recently lost his wife, was a frequent visitor to stamp dealers. Over the years he also visited auctions and amassed a sizeable collection of valuable stamps as an investment to pass on to his children.
Recently he was browsing the Gumtree website and noticed a set of Commonwealth stamps on offer to complete his collection.
Gumtree specialises in putting buyers in touch with sellers on what it describes as the UK’s number one classified site.
Frank said: ‘I still haven’t got over the shock and anger at losing the money. I can’t believe that I’d fall for such a trick.
‘It was so convincingly done that before I had time to even think about it the seller had done a runner and left me empty-handed.’
Just a few days earlier Frank, an avid philatelist from his teenage years, viewed the collection of coveted stamps online and contacted the seller who claimed to be based in Birmingham.
The seller gave his name as Ron Wilson and said he wanted £1,200 for the major part of the collection, but another £800 for four mint rare stamps.
Frank checked with the Stanley Gibbons valuation catalogue, the stamp collector’s bible. He decided they were a bit overpriced, but when the seller agreed to knock £200 off for a quick sale, Frank jumped at the offer.
Mr Wilson told Frank he had to shift the stamps urgently because he needed the money to help pay for his mother’s nursing home fees. He piled on the pressure when he said someone else was also interested in buying the complete collection.
But things started to get murky when it emerged that Mr Wilson would only accept payment by bank transfer.
Frank said: ‘I suppose I should have smelled a rat then, but in view of the fact that the seller said he needed the money urgently it didn’t seem out of the ordinary and quite plausible.
‘I wanted to pay by cheque, because I don’t have online banking, but he was adamant he would only accept payment direct to his bank account.
‘He said the other party waiting in the wings was willing to drive a 300-mile round trip to pay him up front. He gave me just an hour to make up my mind or the deal was off.’
The additional pressure worked and Frank immediately trotted off to his branch of NatWest and arranged a transfer of the £1,800 from his account.
Frank added: ‘Mr Wilson said that he’d send the collection by a secure next-day courier delivery. But when nothing arrived I tried to ring him but the phone line had been disconnected.
‘I tried e-mailing, but when I didn’t receive a reply the penny dropped and I knew I’d been had.’
He went to the bank to see if the payment could be stopped but it was too late. The police gave him a crime number, accompanied by a warning that if he hadn’t heard anything after 28 days it was unlikely he’d get any money back.
Gumtree, eBay and similar websites are aware their services can be infiltrated by fraudsters. They co-operate with victims to report stings promptly to the police via Action Fraud.
Streetwise was assured they go to great lengths to encourage victims to report scammers immediately so that they can be identified and removed from their sites.
Portsmouth City Council’s trading standards service advises caution when using internet selling and advertising sites.
Trading standards manager Peter Emmett said: ‘Check whether the site gives refunds in the event of a dispute and using a third-party payment system such as PayPal will enable a transaction to be secure. With expensive items it is always best to see the item before you part with any cash, so don’t be afraid to ask further questions and arrange to view the item first.’
Frank said he’d been hesitant to reveal his story to Streetwise, but believed his experience deserved wider publicity to warn readers how easy it is to get taken in by online fraud.
‘Nobody likes to be identified as a gullible fool,’ he said, ‘but I felt your readers should be warned and learn from my experience.
‘It’s not that I would urge them to boycott classified websites or buying and selling online, but they should be very aware of the risks they may be taking. Perhaps I should have known better, but unfortunately I learned the hard way.’