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Scammers on eBay! and Other Auction Sites
How to avoid getting ripped off.

Published 3/1/2006

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 ( 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 comfortable living.

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 you!

The chances are good you are being scammed when ..

  • The deal REALLY is too good to be true.
  • 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 it".
  • 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.

    NEVER, NEVER, NEVER send ANY money to a seller BEFORE you have had the car INSPECTED by someone like 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

    If you are uncertain of what particular cars are actually selling for on the open market check (they are offering a free-trial promotion right now)

    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 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

    Jeff Webster is President and CEO of Buyer Services International LLC.

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