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    • South African sneaker buyers are being scammed out of their money by fraudsters on social media.
    • The biggest red flag is sneakers that are advertised at suspiciously cheap prices. 
    • The sellers typically claim that they have a connection at the sneaker company - but don't fall for it.
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    Across the world, trading in branded sneakers is quickly growing into a massive industry. 

    But in South Africa, it has left a trail for counterfeiters and scam artists to follow, and most are using social media to catch their victims.

    The owner of the popular South African sneaker store Shelflife, Nick Herbert, says the problem of fake sneakers and related scams is rife in South Africa. 

    In a recent blog, Herbert reported a flood of tipoffs from the public about Instagram accounts and websites selling fake sneakers, or not delivering anything at all. 

    Counterfeit sneakers are nothing new - Herbert says they’ve been around for decades - but con artists in South Africa are increasingly using social media to find new victims and to add a sense of authenticity to their scams. 

    Leveraging Instagram to sell fakes

    In one case, an alleged scam artist identified by Shelflife has an Instagram account with more than 76 000 Instagram followers. Others have in excess of 30 000 followers. These follower numbers aren’t insignificant, but as Herbert points out, social media followers are easily bought, and these numbers have little bearing on the authenticity of the goods that they are selling or the reliability of their service.

    One of the alleged sneaker scammers is currently advertising new “Nike Airmax (sic) 97” sneakers on Instagram at half the price of most official local retailers, with free two-day delivery included. 

    The image used for ad is clearly a screenshot from another source, and still has graphic elements from the original photo, but the seller claims to have stock of this particular sneaker, with five different colour options, in sizes from two to 11.

    Online complaints suggest that he regularly fails to deliver paid-for goods at all. Business Insider tried to reach him for comment without success. 

    Several apparent victims have taken to Instagram to warn others:

    Shelflife has also received complaints against the online store All Brands Sneakers.

    There are almost a dozen complaints about the store on consumer review website Hello Peter, most of which claim the store has failed to deliver goods. 

    One user complained on Hello Peter that sneakers bought for R2 800 in July 2019 had failed to arrive by October.

    A user who reached out to Shelflife claims that shortly after making a purchase on the All Brands Sneakers website, his bank reversed the payment citing “a lot of complaints” about that particular account number. Another purchased a pair of Nike Airforce 1 sneakers that he considers fake because they “creased” on the first day.

    Business Insider South Africa attempted to contact the store for comment via its official phone number, but it went unanswered.

    A big warning sign, says Herbert, is the pricing. All Brand Sneakers is advertising sneakers at unbelievable discounts - including a pair of Dior B23 High Tops for R3 100, which retail internationally for more than R15 000.

    Another Instagram-based sneaker store, which has more than 38 000 followers, deliver sneakers - but there are concerns that its products are counterfeits.

    The shop is advertising a pair of Nike x Sacai LDWaffles - a sought-after sneaker that resells for between R6 000 and R10 000 - for just R1 700. And in February they were also selling a Supreme Box Logo t-shirt, which currently fetches a minimum of R7 000, for just R449.

    Identifying fake stores

    “The majority of the fraudulent sellers are selling direct to public, via Whatsapp or direct messages on social media. Once you fall victim to this it’s very difficult to get your money back,” Herbert says. “The most secure way to shop is through a legitimate business with a registered, secure website, and possibly a physical premises.”

    Herbert says the majority of fake sneaker sellers do not have actual stores, in order to minimise the risk of getting caught. 

    It’s also not easy to spot whether the sneakers being sold via social media are genuine.

    If viewing the shoes in person, poor quality and missing logos and tags might reveal that they’re fake - there’s even an app that uses AI to help spot counterfeit sneakers.

    But Herbert says spotting fakes on social media or websites is impossible. 

    “The majority of the fake sellers use other legitimate stores’ photos - they even steal social media images to make them look more legit.”

    It also doesn’t help to ask the seller directly if their items are fake, he says. 

    “Generally, they will make up stories saying they import directly, or have a connection at the brand. Most peoples’ conversations we have seen over the past two weeks have started like this. The seller will guarantee the product is legitimate at any cost to ensure the sale. Some guys do not even have the products - they just take your money and block you.”

    Victims of these scams will also have little recourse - Herbert says many have reported the accounts to Instagram but received no feedback. Refunds will also be nearly impossible in instances where payments are made in cash or via EFT - short of a successful criminal prosecution. 

    But credit cards used on secure websites offer slightly more protection. Most banks in South Africa offer a "chargeback" feature for payments made on certain bank cards, which allows you to dispute items and receive refunds in cases like these.

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