Identifying Internet Scams when Buying a Classic Car
Identifying internet scams involving the purchase of a classic car is actually pretty easy. The classic scam scenario happens when a “potential buyer” wants to send you a cashiers check (or bank check) for more than your agreed upon price. They will make up a myriad of reasons why they need to send you more money than they should pay you, i.e. sent you too much money by mistake, sending you the amount to pay the transport company, etc. Then they will ask you to send the overage back to them or send it to a transport company address which they provide. That is the sting. You send them money, then weeks later you find out their bank check was fraudulent. You are out the money you sent them.
The Cars On Line.com staff has been helping sell classic cars over the internet for twenty-five years. We want classic car buyers and sellers to know that there are ways of identifying internet scams. Arm yourself against them by being educated about how internet scammers operate and how the scam works. That way you will recognize them before you fall victim to them.
It’s easy to be tempted by what seems like a good deal. Don’t let the “sucker” be you.
Most of the risk involved in an online car purchase falls on the buyer. As the buyer, you’re being asked to pay a large sum of money for a vehicle that the seller will not part with unless first paid. Cars On Line.com discussed methods of payment in an article written about Completing the Transaction. You should also read our instructional article on Getting an Inspection Done, as well as Using a Bill of Sale. (Click the blue underscored type to read the articles.) These three articles are the best protection against a scam.
Another method of identifying internet scams involving classic cars is to be aware of the scamming techniques you’re most likely to encounter so that you can steer yourself around them.
If a “scam seller” runs ads on eBay or Craig’s List, they will usually be offering a highly desirable collector car at an unheard of low price. Of course, the deal is very tempting. The “scam seller” will want a security deposit by Western union or Paypal. That is the sting in this scenario. Getting an inspection of the car first will always save you from the sting because the scam seller does not really have a car for sale at all. They will likely end the conversation.
HOW TO AVOID!
No deal is so good that you should ignore the basic steps required to protect yourself in an online deal. Have the car inspected by a reputable inspector, get a bill of sale, and use a trusted form of payment. When inquiring about the vehicle, be sure to ask detailed questions that someone who doesn’t actually own the car would have difficulty answering. Buying a collector car from a reputable Classic Car dealership will always be a safe transaction.
Most often these “scam sellers” are located outside the U.S. They often cannot communicate with you by phone or they would give themselves away by their inability to communicate in English. Their English usage in their emails will probably give them away. These are the ones that are easiest to figure out. Just stop communicating with them.
If a collector car seller is from the U.S. he will be easy to identify. You can even look up his address on Google maps and zoom in on his location. You can ask him for references which you can also verify. Most important, a U.S. citizen will not want to perpetrate a fraudulent transaction because he will always serve jail time for an interstate crime. That is why 98 percent of the internet scams are perpetrated by overseas scammers.
A buyer wanting to protect their money is an understandable goal, which is why escrow services seem so appealing. The idea is that the escrow company would hold the funds as a third party agent and wait for the car to be shipped to the buyer. Once the buyer has a chance to inspect the car, the escrow service would release the funds to the seller.
While there are legitimate escrow services out there, the reality is that sellers will not part with a car without cash in hand. A lot of so called “escrow services” are actually scams themselves. There just isn’t anything that an escrow service is offering that gets a seller interested. They are being asked to send their car to a buyer without being paid. No seller would agree to that.
When a scammer uses this method, they set up the service to look legitimate, then recommend the buyer use it to help protect both of their interests. Once the buyer parts with his money, the seller and the service both disappear.
FRAUDULENT CASHIER’S CHECKS
Many people don’t realize that a bank will release funds to you immediately, but will reclaim those funds if the check is determined to be fake. Victims of this scam will deposit the cashier’s check into their account, see that the funds posted, and think everything is okay. They then follow the buyer’s instructions and either send back the amount of an overpayment or make a payment to the transportation agent the buyer has selected. The transportation company the buyer requests is a fake company set up to accept the funds. Weeks later the bank will inform the seller that they deposited a fraudulent check, and reclaim the funds, leaving the seller to pay out of their own pockets anything they gave to the transportation agent or returned to the seller.
Remember that the scammer is not even interested in getting your car. The scammer just wants you to send them some of your money. Your car is never at risk. Scammers are most often in a country outside the U.S. (despite what they might tell you.)
Scammers often cannot speak English. They often will not communicate with you by phone. They will use email exclusively because they want to remain anonymous.
HOW TO AVOID
Only accept a cashiers check or bank check for the correct amount. Never send a refund or check from your account. Ask to speak to the buyer in person on the phone. Use a Bill of Sale to set the terms of the sale.
Phishing is a scamming technique that’s been around since the beginning of financial institutions. In involves getting enough of your personal information to open credit accounts in your name or even gaining direct access to your banking accounts.
Over the internet, the most common way to do this is by providing a link to a fraudulent website designed to look like a legitimate one. A seller might ask you to use Paypal or Google Wallet, both legitimate services, and provide you with a link to a fake website. Scammers will build a website that looks identical to the legitimate one, except that when you enter your information, it’s being collected by the scammer.
DON’T GIVE IMPORTANT INFORMATION
Most internet transactions will require that funds will be transferred through a wire transfer. We suggest that sellers have their bank set up a “dummy account” to accept a wire transfer. Do not give the buyer your private account number and routing number. Use the “dummy account” transfer information given to you by the bank. That will keep a potential scammer from getting your account information.
Never give a seller your social security number.
NEW SCAM: SPEEDING TICKETS
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that law enforcement is getting newer, high-tech tools every day. Not long ago, many municipalities approved the use of catch cameras, cameras connected to speed detecting devices that take photographs of cars exceeding speed limits or failing to stop at traffic lights. The tickets show up in the mail, with no officer interaction required. It wouldn’t surprise many people to receive a notice of a ticket in an email.
Scammers will now send you an email saying you have a speeding ticket. In California recently actual speeders have been contacted by email by internet scammers who demand payment for speeding violations. Law enforcement is still looking into how they’ve come by the specific details of a driver’s speed and whereabouts, but guesses point toward a smart phone app exploit. It records your speed and location as part of GPS navigation. Scammers have taken to sending speeding tickets out to actual speeders. When they pay the “tickets” they don’t realize they are actually paying the scammer.
Law enforcement agencies and municipalities do not contact you by email to accept payments for traffic violations. If you get a ticket delivered to you by email, it doesn’t matter who it’s from … It’s a scam.
GENERAL TIPS FOR BUYERS AND SELLERS
You can read about specific scams on our Scam Alerts page. While most scams are just variations of the kinds listed in this article, new ones do pop up occasionally. You can help to protect yourself from most scams by following these tips.
- Be wary of sellers and buyers that have requirements that seem complicated or out of the ordinary. If they start out by telling you they’re on a long-term business trip in another country, you’re better off just hanging up the phone.
- Don’t use links provided by the seller in an email. If they’re asking you to use Paypal (which is highly unusual to begin with), use an internet search engine to find the Paypal homepage, not the links in the e-mail.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Ask to talk to them over the phone, or better yet, in-person. A seller that refuses to talk to you over the phone is deserving of your suspicions.
- If you can’t see the car in-person yourself, get the vehicle inspected by a professional to be sure it’s actually there. You can get the opinions of the inspector regarding the seller while they’re at it.
- Use a bill of sale to protect yourself legally.
Some of the best advice ever given to help protect you from being victimized is this: don’t get greedy. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you think you’ve become the victim of a scam, contact your local police department and ask about how to proceed.
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