Kiwi Facebook pages disguises blackmarket

A string of Kiwi Facebook pages are operating as a black market for stolen-to-order goods, police say.

Stolen cars and car parts are big business on the Facebook pages, with electronic goods, heavily discounted liquor and cosmetics, and even firearms also being sold and swapped.

Legitimate buyers are being warned to treat the bargains on the pages with caution, with Consumer NZ adviser Maggie Edwards saying consumers would have no legal claim to items purchased which later proved stolen.

Auckland criminal lawyer Gary Gotlieb said the new black market phenomenon needed to be more closely examined.

"[It's] irresponsible and I think, really, there needs to be some action taken by the authorities or else it will get out of order."

Police have used information from the Facebook pages to make dozens of arrests for selling and receiving stolen goods. But they might only be scratching the surface of the underground market.

Among the trading sites, the most prominent are a series of Upper Hutt-administered pages operating under the "Hustle Live" banner, the largest of which has more than 47,500 members.

The "Hustle Live Lower North" page has more than 15,000 members, while associated pages in Hawke's Bay, Manawatu, and Auckland each have 7000-14,000.

Police say most items for sale were probably legitimate but many were suspect.

Sergeant Wil Black, who recently ran the Wellington district police car squad, said the Hustle Live pages had been key in tracking down 32 stolen vehicles and hundreds of car parts.

But a wealth of other questionable items were showing up on the pages daily, he said.

"Most of the work that we did on the car squad was quite phenomenal, and a lot of it trailed back to Hustle Live. This was probably our greatest catchment for stolen goods."

Other similar pages have also caught police attention, with names like "Hustle Hard" and "items for sale no rules wanganui :)". Many operated "closed" groups, which could only be accessed once administrators allowed users to join.

Items of interest included cut-price cosmetics, liquor, bundles of brand-new smartphones, and firearms, Mr Black said. Many of the posts ran the tagline "need gone as soon as possible".

The Hustle Live pages are administered by Brent Maukau, of Upper Hutt. They are "open" sites where members can advertise items or request goods they want.

Police said Mr Maukau was not doing anything illegal. He was not selling anything himself or profiting from business on the page. Responding in a statement last night, Mr Maukau said that Hustle Live did "not condone illegal activity".

"Hustle Live is a Facebook group ... created for members to trade their stuff quick, easy and for free. Members who are reported selling stolen goods are banned."

Hustle Live sales had included people buying and selling firearms with a licence, iPhones in bulk, and laptops where the seller did not know the password.

Manawatu police have recently charged three people for allegedly buying or receiving stolen goods through Hustle Live.

Acting Senior Sergeant Phil Ward said deals that used to be done out of car boots were now conducted online.

RISKY BUSINESS

Questionable items this week from Hustle Live pages:

- A collection of new perfumes from Britney Spears, David Beckham, Beyonce, Rihanna and Marc Jacobs, from $25.

- A request: "Just wondering if anyone out there is selling live plates and vin tags for a 92 Estima Previa petrol".

- A .22 rifle with suppressor, 800-1000 rounds, a carry bag, ammo box, gun oil and barrel cleaning brush, for $250.

- A crossbow for $300, with the tag "extremely powerful and will easily kill".

- A handheld PlayStation game device with two games and chargers for $60, with the tag "need gone".

'IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT IS'

Consumers risk being caught out when trading through social media, because pages such as Hustle Live do not have "systems in place to check the existence of goods or the history of sellers", Trade Me's Jon Duffy says.

"Social networking sites are great at connecting people, but they don't do much to formally measure and police reputation and conduct," the head of trust and safety said.

Trade Me also had a "proof of goods" policy to ensure high-risk items, such as iPhones and firearms, were legitimate.

Facebook should take greater responsibility to prevent illegal activity, he said.

Consumer NZ adviser Maggie Edwards said buyers on Facebook were more vulnerable than shoppers on more reputable sites.

"If you buy off an internet site and you are bidding, you have no rights. If you bought a car [for example] from an individual, that turns out to be stolen, you could lose the car and not get your money back.

"If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

The Dominion Post