Not once, but twice in the past week, I have been sucked in
by scammers on eBay. Not to the point
where I've sent any money, but temporarily suckered nevertheless. This is a
little unnerving for me as this is what I do for a living; I spend most all of
the day on the Internet looking at classic cars for sale. Am I getting soft, am
I losing it? OR, are these scammers
getting THAT good? Naturally, I prefer
to think the latter. The scams are getting so good these days that you REALLY have
to pay attention to recognise that the email you are looking at is a "spoof"
and did NOT come from eBay, Yahoo or PayPal etc.
In my cases, as soon as I realized I was being scammed I alerted
Steve Haas, the Senior Manager of the Collector Cars division of eBay Motors,
he was quick to pull the listing down. He told me that eBay has a "spoof "
department where you can send any bogus emails that find their way to you (spoof@eBay.com) and eBay will "unleash the
hounds" on the perpetrators.
It got me thinking though, if they had me going - what about
less savvy browsers? Do they realize
that these scammers don't expect to get the total cost of the car from them? All they're hoping for is a one or two
thousand dollar deposit. Stop for a minute and think about the millions of
people who use eBay and Yahoo everyday. If these crooks can get just five or six suckers from around the world
to send them a couple of grand each month - THAT'S $10,000 a month! $120,000 A YEAR! Not a bad little earner for sitting at home
with a computer and firing off a few emails each day!
It used to be that it was pretty easy to spot the fake
emails - incorrect email address, solicitations to buy a car from you that came
out-of-the-blue, and of course who hasn't heard of the Nigerian cashiers check
scam and it's variants by now? Speaking of which, that's a classic example of
the reach theses folks have. Remember,
they only have to fool ONE person somewhere in the world a week to make a VERY
These conmen prey upon our weakness - they know there's one
"button they can push" that ALL car guys/girls have. It's the illusive dream that one day we'll find
that bargain of a lifetime. You know, the rare Ferrari or Hemi 'Cuda we
discover in a derelict garage, and the owner has no idea what it's worth and
all but pays you to take it away. Or maybe it's the GM prototype under a tarp
around the back of someone's shed. The
owner never got around to restoring it and now he's fallen on hard times and
has to get rid of it in a hurry - selling it for a lot less than what it's
worth. We're all guilty of wanting a "steal
of a deal", and the crooks know it.
Sometimes they blow it by being too obvious - like when the
asking price for the car is way too cheap - enough to make almost anyone with
pulse suspicious. It's when they do get
it right, however, that fools rush in like proverbial "moths to a flame". Even
though our sixth sense tells us something isn't right, we want to believe so
much that this is OUR day and this car is OUR find of a lifetime and like
lemmings we follow our stupidity into the abyss. (Note: We do exactly the same thing with women when we think there's
a chance we'll get lucky..discuss amongst yourselves!)
Incidentally, this isn't just happening with Collectible
cars, the same goes for newer cars too. We
get asked to inspect Hummers in Italy,
BMWs in the UK, Vipers in France and Porsches in Thailand at least a couple of times
a week. The most recent one was for a
big block Camaro Convertible in the UK for just $8000! These guys
usually have some convincing reason as to why the car is there and why they are
willing to sell it so cheap. They say they understand your distrust and are
willing to ship you the car, so you'll be able to go to the docks and check it
out before you pay them for it. Sometimes they'll entice you further by offering to split the cost of the shipping
with you (before adding that as there is no way they want it damaged, so it
must go in its own insured container which will cost $3000). You send them just $1500 and they'll promise
to get it on its way. I hate to think
how many people have actually done this but I BET the number would be shocking. Sadly I am often called upon to deliver the
'Reality Slap'. "Do you REALLY think
there is no one in Italy
who likes Corvettes?" I ask. Come on - there are car guys there JUST like
The chances are good you are being scammed when ..
The deal REALLY is too good to be
The seller says you can see
the car AFTER you send a "fully refundable" deposit.
The seller says he'll "ship the car and you can send it back if you don't like
The seller doesn't give you
his exact address and telephone number after you tell him you have a friend in the area who you want to swing by to look at the car for you.
The seller refuses to fax
you a copy of the title (saying he's scared of scammers!)
The seller says
he knows little about the car or he's selling it for a friend.
You suddenly start receiving eMails that LOOK like they come from eBay or Yahoo, and I mean REALLY look like it's from them. The one I got almost had me fooled, until I noticed some of
the links didn't work, and they mentioned some bogus inspection company who I
could find no reference to on the internet.
They say that eBay will hold
the money and oversee the deal - it only took one quick call to eBay Motors
to find out that they offer no such service. I pulled myself out of the "nose-dive" and
carried on my merry way. I have no doubt, however, that there were
others who weren't so lucky.
THE BOTTOM LINE?
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER send ANY money to a seller BEFORE you
have had the car INSPECTED by someone like www.AutomobileInspections.com to not only validate that the car does in fact EXIST but that it is IN a
condition the seller says it is and the seller has clear title in HIS name. Do this before the auction is over if
possible - or very soon after the auction has finished. Make SURE you see a copy of the front and the
back of the Title to be certain the name on the Title is the same as the person
you are paying for the car. If not, you could be buying stolen merchandise. If
you need help with this contact www.BuyerServicesInternational.com
If you are uncertain of what particular cars are actually
selling for on the open market check www.Hi-Bid.com (they are offering a free-trial promotion
I find that the quickest way to shut these scammers down is
to say you need the exact location of the vehicle as you will be traveling to
the area on business and want to stop in and check the car yourself. Or, you can tell them you have a friend
nearby who you want to have come by to check it out. Ask them for their
telephone numbers and contact information, then ask them to fax you a copy of
the front and back of the Title. Then, go to www.WhitePages.com and run the name, get
the phone number and call to check it's the same person. There is also feature
on White Pages that allows you to get in contact with the guy's neighbors - so
you can ask them if he's a crook! In my case the individual REALLY did exist,
only problem was, he didn't own a 1960 El Camino and never had - they'd simply
stolen his eBay identity!
Every once in a while a bargain does come along, and most of
us have a 'car in a barn' story to share over a beer, but they are definitely
getting fewer and farther between. If you see what you believe to be a
screaming deal, look upon it as if you are the hungry fish and the "worm" has a
steel hook run through it. Approach with extreme caution and THINK, THINK, THINK
before you take a bite and get yourself hurt.
Remember: "Scammers can't cheat an honest
man; they can only cheat the man who expects to get something for nothing. It
is this type of individual that often ends up with nothing for something".
Jeff Webster is
President and CEO of Buyer
Services International LLC.