Frequent readers know how active I’ve been in the fight against the scourge of real estate fraud. Nothing would please me more than to see all the perpetrators rounded up, any remaining money and/or property confiscated and returned, beaten within an inch or two of their lives by their victims and have it all televised as a reality show to educate future potential victims. Maybe The Smoking Guns Dumbest Criminals wold pick up the series. I’ll call them and check.
I’ve also written cautionary tales about identity theft, phishing scams and and various on-line threats – so imagine my shock at being ALMOST taken by one of these scam artists this past week. In all fairness it was my daughter that almost got took but she knows better and even that didn’t stop the scam.
She’s been looking for a used truck. As young people increasingly do these days, she likes to shop on-line, check out the deals, see what’s available. Sometimes she’ll end up buying at a brick & mortar store but more often than not she finds the deal she wants on-line.
Shopping Craigs List, she found a truck that was just what she wanted. Newer, low mileage, several upgrades, plenty of pictures and advertised in the San Diego area, less than an hour from home. Contacting the seller she learned he was a soldier shipping out in 2 weeks, anxious to sell his truck so it wouldn’t just sit and rot while he was gone. He’s working the sympathy for the soldiers sacrificing his truck and serving his country routine very effectively. She actually hates to take advantage of the poor guy – but hey – Somebody is going to get a good deal on this truck it may as well be her. He sent a bunch more photos and they agreed on a price of $5,200. Similar trucks are selling for anywhere from $8,500 to almost $14,000 so this deal looks – well almost too good to be true.
Turns out though, that the truck isn’t actually in San Diego but in Montana at his folks place.
Well, that’s a problem because she isn’t going to pay for the truck until she sees it and checks it out.
No problem. He’s signed up through the eBay Motor Vehicle Protection Program where any purchase is protected up to $20,000. The money is wired to a 3rd party escrow account and not released to him until she is satisfied the truck is as represented. The $5,200 includes shipment right to her front door and her satisfaction is guaranbteed. How convenient – how secure.
Being a regular eBay shopper, she goes to their site and sure enough, they do have a new Vehicle Purchase Program designed to facilitate larger purchases. Sounds legit. Okay.
The next email shows up purporting to be from ebay – official looking logo, certification #, member is in good standing, info on security procedures, all very official. Well, there’s a couple of miss-spelled words in the fine print text but nothing too off-putting. Instructions are to send a MoneyGram to this 3rd party escrow facilitator who will then notify the seller to ship the truck. Sounds Fair.
Now the little problems start. Their link to Moneygram is actually to Western Union but their email specifically says they don’t work with Western Union. But when my daughter goes over to a MoneyGram outlet the cashier urges caution. Once the money is sent it’s as good as cash to the recipient and it’s untraceable. She should be 110% certain before she send it off. Thank Heaven for small favors and honest MoneyGram employees.
My daughter calls me at this point. We go through the questionable emails – by this time there are 3 or 4 from ‘eBay‘. All of them have a mis-spelled word or two. If you click on the logo button that they show for a security link, it takes to to a Yahoo search page, if you try to cross-reference the eBay customer ID and security code, it goes nowhere. Hmmm, that’s probably not good.
We go to the official eBay site and look in their ‘Security Center‘ and it immediately sent up Red Flags for 3 of their 4 criteria. Only eBay transactions are covered by the Purchase Protection Plan, eBay’s guarantee is $50,000, not $20,000, their plan ONLY covers eBay bid transactions, not 3rd party or Craigs List deals, and NEVER send money via Western Union or MoneyGram. They’re untraceable. Everything eBay goes through PayPal. Ooops.
Called eBay and outlined the scenario – they had me send the emails to [email protected]. They got back to me within 10 minutes – SCAM. PHISHING. FRAUD.
This guy is probably not a soldier shipping off to Iraq (he should rot in hell for that little lie alone, using our soldiers to pull this scam). He has probably been advertising the truck in numerous markets across the country, not just San Diego. The 3rd party escrow company address is probably a P.O. drop box somewhere that they have rented for a month. Meanwhile no telling how many untraceable MoneyGram checks they have received from unsuspecting victims patiently awaiting delivery of this beautiful truck. End of the month, they close this scam down and start the next one.
Moral of this story – well, the usual.
- If it looks too good to be true…
- Don’t ignore the little red flags – they’re probably indicative of some bigger red flags you can’t see yet.
- ALWAYS reference a transaction directly through the official site, not the ‘official site’ that they link you to. If you log in to eBay through their ‘eBay’ link, you’re actually giving all your personal information directly to the bad guys.
- Better yet, don’t click on anything on that site because they may be capturing keystokes or other personal information.
- DO NOT send untraceable money ANYWHERE even if the place has a name like eBay Escrow & Trust Account.
- Report any questionable activity IMMEDIATELY to eBay, Craigs List or whomever. They hate this stuff more than you do and they have the deep pockets to try to go after these people and shut them down. They can’t afford to have blemishes like this attached to their business.
We were lucky this week. My daughter feels like a schmuck & I am amazed how insidious these perps are. But at least she still has her money to go buy a truck.
But somewhere across the country, maybe in more than one living room tonight, someone is bemoaning the loss of $5,200 and trying to figure out what the hell happened. If you think it can’t happen to you, think again. Someone, somewhere right now is plotting to separate YOU from YOUR hard earned money. Damn.