Palmerston North police are warning shoppers looking for an online bargain to be wary after three people in Manawatu were arrested for peddling stolen goods on a Facebook-based trading site.
They were all arrested this year after allegedly buying or selling stolen property on the Hustle Live Manawatu site.
Hustle Live Manawatu, one of several Hustle Live Facebook pages throughout New Zealand, allows people to post items for sale on its wall. Buyers are then able to message the seller directly to strike a deal.
And suspicious trading on the site appears not to be confined to Manawatu, with police using information from other Hustle Live Facebook pages to make dozens of arrests all over the country.
Acting Senior Sergeant Phil Ward, of Palmerston North, said police were alerted to Hustle Live in February by a member of the public concerned it was being used to sell stolen goods.
Since then, three site users have been arrested in Manawatu and charged with either buying or selling goods.
Mr Ward would not release further details about those cases while they were still before the courts.
"We're concerned it has become an informal trading site for stolen goods because it doesn't have rules like Trade Me does," he said.
Legitimate buyers are also being warned by Consumer NZ to treat bargains on the pages with caution, with adviser Maggie Edwards saying people would have no legal claim to items purchased that later proved stolen.
Auckland criminal lawyer Gary Gotlieb said the new blackmarket 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."
On one of the Hustle Live sites earlier this year, a notice to all members was posted by site founder Brent Maukau, who said an approval system would start up to keep the wall clean because of a high number of "unwanted posts".
Police said Mr Maukau was not doing anything illegal. He was not selling anything himself or profiting from business on the page.
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."
Mr Ward said people needed to be mindful of what they were buying online.
Items such televisions without remotes or computers without power cords should raise red flags, he said.
NetSafe executive director Martin Cocker said even an organisation as big as Facebook did not have any resource for the oversight of trading pages.
"Responsibility is really heavily pushed on to the trader, the person who is purchasing or selling, because a social networking site is not an e-commerce site," he said.
"The person who sets up the trading page has no way of really managing it or creating confidence in that site.
"They're essentially creating a classifieds page people can put anything on, and they have no way of policing or enforcing any good behaviours."
Because the creators of such pages did not have access to the "back end" of the website, they could do "almost nothing" to prevent stolen goods being sold, he said.
Popularity of such sites started about a year ago, which is when the complaints started, he said. "People recognise the vulnerability of those sites and target them."
The best way for shoppers to protect themselves was to use more conventional e-commerce sites that allocated resources to monitoring users, or that worked with police, Mr Cocker said.
"One stolen thing looks like someone's secondhand thing. Stolen goods are very difficult to spot. What [you should be] looking for is an environment where people don't feel confident to sell stolen goods, where there's a high risk of detection and prosecution."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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