Anatomy of a car-buying scam


By Kate Horrell, Military.com

You’re car shopping, and you see the perfect ride on Craigslist.  Better yet, the price is super-low.  How exciting is that?  Probably not too exciting, because it there’s a good chance that it is a scam.

Scams are everywhere, and the internet is making it easier for scams to come right into our living room.  Our family is in the market for a new car, and so I’ve been looking on Craiglist and Facebook to see what might be available in our area.  And, lo, I got to experience the beginning of a car-buying scam first-hand.

I was on Craigslist, and a new car listing popped up.  I was immediately suspicious – it was a nice car at an exceptionally low price.  Even thought I thought it might be a scam, I thought I’d investigate a little more.  Either it was a great deal, or it would be interesting to see what the scammer said.  I sent a message to the seller, and I received this reply:

Hi again, at this moment I am in US Army Department, MI in a military base. I do a special training program each day and I am not allowed to get out of the unit. That is why I chose eBay to handle this for me. I can’t handle it myself.

The car is in their possession at a storage warehouse in MI ,crated and ready to be delivered. eBay will handle this transaction and the total amount that you will pay is $2,000 (NO hidden or shipping fees). After the payment is confirmed and secured I will start the shipping. You will receive the car at your home address within 2-3 working days. It will come with a clear title and reg.

I am a member of eBay buyer protection program and using this service you will get a 10 days testing period after delivery and then I will get the payment. So only after  you receive the car and agree to keep it, they will release the payment to me. If you find anything wrong with it you will get a full refund and ship it back free of charge.

If you’re interested in buying the car just reply me your full name, address and phone#, then eBay will contact you with further instructions.
Wow!  I expected it to be a scam, I just didn’t expect it to be so obvious.  There are so many signs that it is a scam.  I really thought the scammers would be a little more sophisticated and make it a little harder to tell.
Scam experts identify six signs that you could be looking at a car-buying scam:

Low Price

 There are four reasons why a car would be priced much lower than expected:
  1. The seller doesn’t know the car’s value.
  2. The seller needs to sell fast.
  3. The car has problems.
  4. It is a scam.

It’s worth investigating low-priced cars.  You might get lucky and find a seller who just really needs to get rid of their car fast.  That’s not particularly unusual if you’re dealing with a military member who is moving and not taking their car.  But if you’re looking at a car with an exceptionally low price, be prepared for the fact that it might be a scam.

Location

While people do sometimes buy cars from a location far from their house, legitimate sellers rarely advertise outside their local area.  It makes more work for them, and makes their life harder.  Obviously, if you are looking for a very unique vehicle, this might be a different situation.  But for a regular car, be suspicious of someone advertising in different areas.

Photographs

Be suspicious of stock photos, or photos that look like they are from another location or another time of year.  A picture of a car in a parking lot covered in snow when you live in Dallas?  That’s probably worthy of some further investigation.

One trick that can help you determine whether a seller actually has the car is to ask for a picture of something  in particular.  For example, you might ask for a photograph of the license plate frame or the third row of seat.

Payment Methods

Scammers almost always use untraceable payment methods.  This may include Western Union, money orders, or fake “escrow” companies.  More sophisticated schemes might include wire transfers to throwaway bank accounts opened with fake documentation.

Poor English

Poor sentence structure, misspellings, and odd use of words are another sign that your dream deal might be a dud.  I can’t figure out why these people don’t go to the effort of finding someone who can write English properly; they’d make a lot more money if they did.

Claiming Military Affiliation

It is common for a  scammer to  claim that they are using an unusual selling method due to the rigors of their military training.   This makes it even harder for legitimate military families when they need to sell cars, but they aren’t usually claiming to be unable to meet you or offering to ship the car from their storage unit in another state.

It’s easy to overlook warning signs when you’re excited about a deal.  The physiological response to a bargain is real, and it is powerful.  Heck, I got excited about this Craiglist car even thought I knew from the start that it was probably a scam.  Remaining vigilant and knowing all the tricks is the best way to protect yourself from those bad folks out there.

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