Anatomy of a Scam
She was beautiful, perfectly proportioned, with long gentle curves, all in the right places. I was smitten. And, she was for sale, twenty-nine hundred dollars for a classic 1979 Triumph Spitfire in almost-showroom condition.
Whether it is a beautiful woman or a classic car, both are eye candy to an old codger like me. I had to have her.
The sale listing on eBay had seven days to go, but only one hundred dollars had been bid to the 'Buy It Now' price of $2,900. This was a concern. After all, who buys a car without driving it and having it thoroughly inspected? But, right then, that didn't seem too relevant.
I sent an email to the seller asking for more details, and maybe, a few pictures.
The reply awaited me the next morning.
I'm glad that you're interested in my 1979 Triumph Spitfire. Let me tell you all about this car.
This was my brother's car, he died and left me the car in his will, I'm selling so cheap because it brings bad memories, it was registered in US.
The car is street legal and accurate. It has no scratches, no damages, and no hidden defects. Kept it in a warm garage. It comes with all the documents needed for registration in US, it has a clear title and it can be registered into your name at any time.
The buy it now price is US $2,900.00. This buy now price does include the shipping and insurance fees.
I'm located in Mansfield UK and the car is here as well and so this is where the car will be shipped from (for local buyers or for cash payments vehicle inspection / pick up is also available at anytime during 10:00AM - 2:00PM).
I've done some research and the best and fastest way I can ship it is using Hemisphere Cargo Shipping Ltd, which takes between 7 to 9 days to arrive at your door and costs (door to door handling and shipping insurance fee included).
The most important thing in all my activity here is that I am affiliated with Yahoo! Finance where I have a purchase protection account for $ 5,000.00.
How will Yahoo! Finance protects your purchase?
This service allows us to complete this transaction in a manner that is quick and safe for both of us. It acts as a third party between seller and buyer to insure that both parties comply with transaction requirements and provides dispute resolution and mediation between parties. Yahoo! Finance is responsible to insure that both parties comply with transaction requirements.
If this is ok with you please reply with your complete name, address and shipping address in your next email and let me know if you are interested in knowing more details about this purchase so that I can open a transaction case at Yahoo! Finance and move forward with this deal.
At this point a few red flags should have popped up, but now the hook was in deeper and I was oblivious to such concerns. However, I did ask for some more pictures. Stanley replied with a batch of excellent pictures of this beautiful machine and the news that Yahoo Finance was sending me an invoice. He indicated that it would be shipped, crated by Hemisphere Cargo Shipping Ltd., so that the car would arrive in eight days from shipping at my address. He cited shipping, insurance and customs costs of $900, but was including those little items in his quoted price. He confided that he was shipping it as a gift to a friend to avoid taxes. As a final gesture, Stanley also offered to send all the paperwork, including transferred title, odometer disclosure, donation document, original invoice, service records, and manuals. He assured me that this beautiful car needed no repairs and no immediate attention, besides the usual general and cosmetic maintenance. He even went so far as to open a transaction case with me through Yahoo Finance, who would contact me with the complete details of the transaction shortly. He would wait for Yahoo Finance’s valid payment confirmation to proceed with shipping. This invoice arrived the same day by email, looking very official and authentic. In effect, it described the vehicle, with VIN number, the terms of the sale, and buyer and seller's addresses. It instructed me to forward the money by Western Union to an individual in London, U. K. purported to be and agent of Yahoo Finance.
It seemed simple enough, get the cash, wire it to London, and they would ship the car. Besides, all this was looked after by Yahoo Finance. Fortunately, a friend of mine runs the local Western Union office. So, I got the cash from my account and hustled down to Ron’s office to set the transaction in motion.
But, there were a few problems with the transmission, including the limits on the monetary size of each sending and the time zone difference. In addition, Ron was a bit new with the procedure. Anyway, we put it together and I headed home.
So the deed was done. However, what so often happens when action is taken on emotional impulse, once the final step is done, the misgivings and second-guessing sets in. On the way home the doubts took over, so much so, that as soon as I got in the house, I fired up the computer and got online. I wasn’t too sure what to check, so resorted to searching, using key words associated with the transaction. I tried Yahoo Finance. There was lots of stuff there, but nothing relevant. It was on the second search for Hemisphere Cargo Shipping Ltd., that I hit pay dirt with a website called Pagoda SL Group. This is a forum composed of reports from individuals, some of who have experienced situations regarding offshore automobiles advertised for sale.
One of the more revealing reports describes a mint 1991
GMC Cyclone, a car that would normally bring around $10,000, for sale at the
surprisingly low, but familiar price of $2900. The car had been found on eBay.
The story was shockingly familiar. The seller’s brother had died and left this
gem in his will. Because of the bad memories, the seller was parting with it at
such a low price. It was of course, immaculate, no defects, and all ready to be
registered in the U. S., and the price included shipping door to door. This car
was also purportedly located in Mansfield, UK. Shipping was to be by Hemisphere
Cargo Shipping Ltd., and Yahoo Finance would protect the purchase. This was
being offered by Alan, not Stanley
“I received a notification from Yahoo Finance that you may try to trick me to deliver the car, is this true?
They said that your payment was invalid and that I should not ship the car, please explain this:
" Be advised that if the buyer requires you to ship the merchandise or if you have completed shipping please contact us as fast as possible."
I referred Stanley to the Pagoda SL Group website.
My subsequent research has shown that EBay scams of this nature are not uncommon. In fact, the variety of fraudulent activities seems endless. For every potential buyer there is a crook out there scheming to get his money. Some of the more common scams take the following forms. Buyers may receive fraudulent requests for payment from scammers under the guise of the seller or an EBay employee. In the bidding process, fraudulent bidders will bid high and then retract it in order to learn another bidder's maximum bid, allowing a partner to win on a low bid. One should also look out for sales of knock-offs or stolen property advertised falsely. For sellers there have been threats of negative feedback in order to extort unfair demands. Unscrupulous sellers will assume multiple bidder identities in order to inflate the price of an item they are trying to sell. Scams attempted through PayPal include attempts to gain personal information through 'Dear PayPal User' emails. Legitimate emails will always identify you by name.
Protection for your payments should also be a concern. Since EBay owns PayPal, this is the recommended system to use. Buyers are protected and can dispute and demand refund on payment if goods are not satisfactory. It is up to the seller to prove the item was shipped and was in the condition advertised. For this protection policy to be enforceable, both seller and buyer must be located in the U.S.
So, what should you, as a buyer be on the lookout for, and what precautions can you take? There are a number, and most of these involve common sense. Be suspicious if you see a selling price much lower than that of similar items. If your correspondence from a seller is a 'Dear Sir', you are probably looking at a form letter from a scammer. Since many of these fraudulent transactions are initiated in foreign countries, be wary of bad spelling and poor grammar. A seller's feedback record is useful, but can also be misleading. Perhaps it is a record reflecting the sale of a number of low cost items devised to set the scene for the fraudulent offer of a big-ticket item. An offer of free shipping of a large item such as a vehicle was the clue that should have caught my attention. Since it would cost about a thousand dollars to ship a car across the U. S., the quote of free shipping from Great Britain was a great big red flag that I chose to ignore at the time. Also, with my experience, 'Stanley' closed his auction as soon as I contacted him, but continued in his efforts to strike a deal outside of EBay. That, I have since learned is another major indicator of a crooked operation. In a similar vein, some dishonest sellers may contact you after following your bidding efforts at another auction.
If you are considering purchasing a more expensive item through EBay, it is a good idea to review the Ebay Guides. Go to www.ebay.com and click of 'Buy', 'Review and Guides', and enter 'fraud' in the 'Search' box. If the item costs in the neighborhood of $500 or more, the use of an Escrow service is recommended. An Escrow service is a third party that holds the money until the buyer has had time to inspect the merchandise and is satisfied. There is a time limit on this evaluation period. Unscrupulous sellers will recommend the use of escrow services, which they have probably had a hand in setting up or are connected with in some way. EBay's authorized escrow service is www.escrow.com. Another suggestion is to deal only with BuySafe sellers. BuySafe is a bonding service guaranteeing reimbursement for unsatisfactory purchases.
If considering a vehicle purchase, get additional specific pictures of that vehicle. Many crooked sellers will use stock photos. Get a Carfax report. Contact the seller by phone. Verbal communication can be very revealing. And finally, if the car is close enough, spend the extra bucks for travel and go have a look at it.
My hope is that this advice will save at least one person out there from being scammed, and the mental anguish that goes along with it.
Moral? I see two.
1. If something appears too good to be true, it probably is.
2. Never underestimate your own potential for gullibility