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The Shipping Container Scam

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If you’re looking to purchase shipping containers, now or in the future, for building a shipping container house or for storage, be very careful. The shipping container industry in South Africa lends itself to the perfect scam. There are unscrupulous individuals out there that are making use of the opportunity to take your money. 

What Makes the Shipping Container Industry Such an Easy Target For Scammers?

The thing about purchasing shipping containers is that you don’t get to see them beforehand. Shipping containers are graded into categories, A, B or C, etc. You know that if you buy a B Grade container, it will have a dent or two and a little bit of rust, but it will be watertight and sea-worthy. Most of the second hand shipping containers out there for sale are B grades. Most shipping containers are stored in depots, where it is almost impossible for you to gain access, to check out the container you wish to purchase.

You have to pay up front the total amount due, including your transport costs, to receive delivery of a shipping container you’ve never seen before. As you can see, this lends itself to the perfect scam.

How the Shipping Container Scam Works

Shipping container scam
This is a free stock photo from Pexels.com

The fraudster has an easy time selling non-existent shipping containers. All he needs is a fake website and a bank account. Beautiful websites are easy to build these days with systems like WordPress. Even photos are not a problem with the abundance of free stock photos from several stock websites. Once the website is running, a few adverts on Gumtree or similar provides the bait. 

The unsuspecting victim finds the listing advertising containers at bargain prices, checks out the website, and hands over his money. Once the payment has been made, the bank account is closed. The shipping container is never delivered and the fraudster walks away with a nice fat pile of the victim’s hard-earned money. 

It’s extremely difficult to track down these racketeers too, so it is unlikely that the victim will ever get his money back.

How To Protect Yourself

When we started shopping around for shipping containers for Kevin’s workshop, we didn’t know that there was a scam. Thankfully, I’m very suspicious in nature, and so far, we haven’t been bitten. Along the way, however, I did find a few websites that did not look right and we decided that if we were at all uncertain, we would rather walk away. Along the way, we have picked up a few tips for protecting ourselves. I would like to share them with you.

crime scene shipping container scam

Tips to Protect Yourself From the Shipping Container Scam

  1. Is the seller’s website incomplete?

    If you find chunks of text that do not look like it belongs on the website, be suspicious. The same with links that don’t work. Even bad grammar and spelling can be an indication. 

  2. How long has the website been around?

    With tools on websites such as whois.com, you can find out how long another website has been in existence. If it is a relatively new website (only a few months old), there is cause for suspicion. 

  3. Do they have contact details listed on their website?

    If the website is missing an address, that’s a sure indication that the website is bogus. If there is an address, check that the address does actually exist. You can use Google Maps for this. Phone the listed telephone numbers. Reputable companies, of the magnitude required to deal with shipping containers, will have a land line. If you speak to someone with a foreign accent, be suspicious.

  4. Check out their Facebook page.

    Even though you can fake a business Facebook page, this takes time. How long have they been posting to the page? Do they have references listed? Are they talking about projects they are involved with?

  5. Are they trying too hard?

    If you ask for a quote and it comes accompanied by many supporting documents and certificates, in my opinion, they’re trying to hide something. Those certificates will likely mean nothing to you anyway, and are only there to impress you.

  6. Do they ask for your bank details?

    Always run from this one. Chances are they want to know what bank you bank with so they can set up a bank account at the same bank so that the funds clear more quickly. 

  7. Ask for references and phone those contacts.

    If the references sound suspicious, find another supplier.

  8. Ideally, deal with a company that someone you know has dealt with.

    This is not always an option, but if it is, it’s the safest route to take.

  9. Is the company a member of a container association?

    Large international companies will be members of container associations. This might not be the case with smaller South African companies. However, you can have a look on the directories on websites such as www.containa.org and www.containerownersassociation.org

In short be very careful and safe shopping!

2 thoughts on “The Shipping Container Scam

  1. Some things seem obvious after you’ve been scammed but are not so obvious at the moment of scamming, so this will definitely be a useful checklist for anyone looking to buy a container. I’m glad you’re so suspicious!

    1. You are so right! What do they say? Hindsight is 20/20. If our post helps protect someone else, I’ll be happy.

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