Americans keep falling for fake online car, boat sale ads — to the tune of $20 million


IC3You’ve probably heard about online scams involving high-priced items allegedly for sale on web sites. Consumer sends money, item never arrives, victim loses thousands of dollars.

But no one really falls for that, right?  Wrong.  In fact, $20 million wrong.

Scams like that are so successful, and so pervasive, that the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center recently issued a warning about them.  From 2009 to the present, the IC3 says, 6,800 complaints were filed for one particular style of high-priced item fraud. Among the items not-really-for-sale were: “automobiles, boats, heavy equipment, recreational vehicles, lawn mowers, tractors, and other similar items.”  Criminals have gotten away with $20 million, the IC3 says.

Peel back the trappings of the elaborate scam story, and you have the usual fraud — consumer sends money using an irrevocable method like wire transfer, losing any chance they might have to recover after the fraud.  Don’t do that.  But as usual, the lipstick on this pig is quite elaborate. The communication includes “logical” reasons why transactions must be completed quickly. (Never spend a lot of money quickly).

In the end, as I’ve expressed before, consumers who fall for this kind of thing are often guilty themselves — not just of falling for something that is too good to be true, but rather, for believing they can get away with buying something at an unfairly discounted price.  That’s not quite a crime, but it is a little bit like stealing.  Don’t do that, either. (Here’s my list of reasons why people fall for scams).

And here’s the IC3’s details on how the crime plays out.

The scam initiates when the criminals post a false advertisement offering the item for sale. The advertisement usually includes a fraudulent photo to entice the consumer to purchase the item. Within the advertisement, the criminal includes a contact telephone number. The consumer leaves a message and the perpetrator responds via text message. The text message normally requests that the consumer provide an e-mail address. Once the e-mail address is provided the consumer is sent additional details to include multiple images of the item for sale. The perpetrator provides logical reasons for offering the item at such a discounted price such as moving to another location; therefore, the item needs to be sold quickly; the sale was part of a divorce settlement; or overseas deployment.

Consumers normally negotiate a price. Many scammers advise the consumer the transaction will be conducted through Ebay to ensure a safe and easy transaction. In reality the scammer is only pretending to use Ebay. The consumer receives a false e-mail that appears to be legitimate from Ebay. The e-mail provides instructions on how to complete the transaction. The perpetrator provides the consumer with all the information necessary to complete the wire transfer – the bank account name, address, and account number. The scammer provides a fraudulent toll-free Ebay customer service number for the consumer to use when they are ready to wire the money. These numbers were also used by many victims to confirm a successful wire transfer or to check transaction status and shipping information. After the transaction, the consumer is sent a false Ebay confirmation e-mail that includes the fraudulent transaction or confirmation number and the expected delivery date of the item.

Any follow-up calls, text messages or e-mails to the perpetrator(s) are normally ignored and many victims report the toll-free customer service telephone numbers provided are constantly busy. As a result, the consumer never receives the purchased item(s) and suffers a financial loss.

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About Bob Sullivan 1477 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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