Internet Fraud Is Rampant For Car Sellers
Published in the Serious Buyer, Serious Seller Eletter, July 30, 2010, Written by Viraf Baliwalla
Four years ago, I wrote an article about a woman who placed an ad to sell her fridge and stove on a classified website. This was a true story. She was contacted by a buyer from out of the country who "accidentally" sent her a certified cheque for more than she was asking. "OOPS. Could you please give the difference to the driver when he comes to pick up the appliances?" Of course, this was a scam and it ended up costing her a lot of money plus her appliances. The certified cheque was drawn on a Calgary, Alberta company at a major Canadian bank.
This wasn't the first time such a thing had happened nor was it to be the last, but I witnessed it firsthand recently when we were advertising a vehicle for sale on behalf of a client. It is unbelievable that despite how much we have evolved technologically in four years, these scam artists are still pulling the same old stunts. This tells me that there are still lots of people falling for it. In the victims' defense, the combination of the culprits' craftiness combined with the over-eager desire to sell one's goods at a high price make for easy picking.
Luckily I was well aware of these tactics but many others would easily have fallen prey because everything seemed so legitimate. I realized early on that it was a scam but I decided to play along, hopefully lure the buyer and/or the shipper into a situation where they could be nabbed. I even called Phonebusters, a government agency that investigates such things, early on. It was exciting, I felt kind of like a secret agent, or at least the wired bait in a dangerous game of cat and mouse.
I was advertising a vehicle on Craigslist, a popular classifieds site on behalf of one of our clients. I received a few emails from someone named Wendy Harry asking very innocent questions about the condition, mileage, etc. I actually thought it was a potential buyer at first due to the innocence of the questions - "what condition", "is this price firm".
The next email stated that Wendy had agreed to pay in full, no negotiation, and sent a cheque to me accidentally for more than the full amount. The accident happened because she was so busy due to being promoted and getting ready for a transfer to the UK (as if a decent vehicle couldn't be found in the UK that it had to be shipped from Canada). Wendy also stated that she was going to send an agent to come pick up the vehicle, once I cashed the certified cheque and sent her the change via Western Union.
I kept Phonebusters in the loop with each contact. I then actually did receive a cheque drawn on a Colorado bank against a Colorado company. It came in a brown manila envelope with stamps from Malaysia. That same afternoon, I received a phone call from Wendy Harry (turned out to be a male) and they started pressuring when I would have the cheque deposited and send them the change, along with arranging pickup of the vehicle. Now it started to get really interesting, it wasn't just emails going back and forth. I pushed back to buy myself some time and then called Phonebusters right away. Surely, we could somehow track the Western Union transfer and nab the agent, thus tracking him back to the source.
I quickly called Phonebusters again to give them an update and see what my next steps should be. Unfortunately, they said that now that contact had been made, they would basically transfer the file to another department where it would probably be closed. What?! After all this?
It turns out that there are so many such cases and all contact information is fake anyway so the authorities around the world have no way of really tracking anyone down. They move from one scam to the next, one victim after another. They buy prepaid disposable cell phones so there is no record of their connection. I was lucky that I knew what was going on. But many people are tricked into losing money, their homes, even their complete identities. Please, keep this in mind next time you're using the internet and by all means, surf safely.