Used cars have become a hot commodity during the pandemic and the Better Business Bureau warns that criminals are taking advantage.
It happened to Jesse Johnson of Archer City, Texas last month.
“I was looking for a pickup truck online and I got on some Facebook pages, trading post type pages,” said Johnson.
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That’s when Johnson received an email from someone claiming to be in the military and stationed in Montana.
“She said her husband recently died and she had his pickup,” recalled Johnson. “She didn’t need it anymore, she was fixing to deploy and she just wanted to get rid of it.”
The stranger offered a 2005 Dodge pickup with a little over 60,000 miles for a rock-bottom price of $1,400.
It was a major red flag that Johnson said he overlooked because of the stranger’s story.
In an email NBC 5 reviewed, the supposed seller wrote she reduced the price because she was desperate to sell it fast. She claimed she couldn’t afford the insurance or storage costs of an extra vehicle.
“I was in the Army for several years and I know what that’s like when you’re getting ready to deploy. There’s a lot of stuff you didn’t want to mess with,” said Johnson.
The stranger sent him an invoice with an eBay logo requesting the payment in eBay gift cards – claiming they are protected.
Johnson followed the instructions, buying several gift cards and sending photos of the front and back.
The next day, he received a call from a number in California. The voice on the line claimed Johnson needed to pay $1,000 in shipping insurance for the vehicle.
“She said you’ll get it back when you get your pickup and everything checks out,” recalled Johnson.
The pickup never arrived and the scammers were in the wind.
“I still need a pickup and I don’t have the money. I emptied my savings,” said Johnson.
Johnson said he knows he likely won’t get his money back, but he shared his story in hopes someone else won’t fall victim.
“I want to see them stopped, anything to make it more difficult for them or to eliminate them from being able to do it to someone else is my only concern,” he said.
According to a new study by the Better Business Bureau, complaints about online auto sale scams are on the rise during the pandemic when scammers claim they can’t meet a buyer in person because of COVID-19 safety concerns.
“They’re basically saying, I can send you photographs,” said Phylissia Clark, VP of Public Relations and Communications for the Better Business Bureau Serving North Central Texas.
The scammers are also creating fake escrow accounts or asking buyers to send payments to a third-party shipping company. The companies either don’t exist or the scammer is impersonating a real business.
“They are creating fake escrows and telling people that they can't meet up because of COVID. People are sending money in ways that they normally wouldn't and people are being stolen from. We’ve seen a huge increase,” Clark added.
The Federal Trade Commission warns these scams are getting harder to spot.
“It doesn't necessarily have those telltale grammatical errors. They’re willing to set up, in some instances, fake escrow companies so that it looks like you are sending your money to a legitimate bank account,” said Matthew Wilshire an attorney at the FTC.
“I think one consistent thread here is make sure you know who you’re dealing with,” said Wilshire.
BBB says the signs of a scam include:
- The vehicle is priced well below market value
- Sellers don’t meet the buyer in person for test drive or to see the vehicle
- Sellers claim the transaction is protected by eBay even if the sale happens off the site
- Sellers ask you to pay in gift cards or send you to a third-party shipping company or bank you’ve never done business with
- Sellers give a sob story about why the vehicle is priced so low and why they have to sell quickly
“Tugging on your heart strings, playing on a sense of urgency by creating really elaborate stories,” warned Clark. “In most cases, the scammer will claim they're a recent widow and can't take care of the car anymore.”
If you come across a deal online, BBB recommends you investigate it.
You can do a Google image search of the vehicle photo to see if it appears in other ads. Scammers will often steal someone else’s photo on-line.
You can also do an internet search of the phone number or email address offered by the seller or printed on an invoice.
If you fear you’ve been scammed, the FTC says act quickly to call your bank. You can also try calling the credit card company connected to the reloadable gift card if that was the method of payment.
You can share a complaint with the BBB here:
You can file a complaint with the FTC here or call 877-FTC-Help.
Contact the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov/complaint
You should also flag a scam post and notify the platform the scammer used.
eBay says scam artists list items for sale on phony landing pages, Craigslist or other trading sites and promise eBay protection. The company’s vehicle purchase protection applies to transactions that start and are completed on the eBay Motors website.
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