These new-age scammers. They prey on unsuspecting folks who are trying to sell used cars (or other items) through Internet classified ads or an “autotrader" web site.
Even though this scam has been around for a few years and has been publicized in many news stories, there are still people who haven't heard about it - and are at-risk to be victimized by it.
Here's how the scam works. Note that the details can be different, but the general scheme is always the same.
- The used-car seller receives a long, polite email from a potential buyer who lives/works/travels in Africa/Europe/Asia and is interested in buying the advertised car, sight-unseen, at the asking price.
- The email sender says that he has a client/agent/partner in the U. S. who will handle pickup and shipping of the vehicle.
- The sender says that he will send a certified cashiers check or money order for the car and asks for the seller's name and mailing address.
- The check or money order arrives but the amount is greater than the cost of the car, puportedly to cover shipping costs. Seller is asked to send a cashiers check or money order to the “shipper" for the amount of the extra money.
- Seller deposits the buyer's “certified" check or money order in his bank account. The bank adds funds into the seller's account, even though the check has not cleared.
- Seller withdraws funds out of his account for certified check or money order to send (via express mail) to “shipper. "
- A few days later, the seller's bank reports that the “certified" check or money order is counterfeit and removes all the original funds previously deposited to the seller's account.
- By this time, the seller's check or money order has been cashed, funds debited from his account, and he realizes he's been duped. His account may be overdrawn. There is no way to contact the “buyer" or his agent to recover the money. The bank declares no responsibility.
- The “buyer" moves on to the next victim. The seller still has his car along with a seriously damaged bank account.
Now you know. Don't get caught in this increasingly common scam.
Al Hearn is owner and operator of Used Car Advisor , a web site for automotive consumers who want to be smart about used car buying and selling.