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Getting conned while buying online

07/08/2013 10:40 |  Comments: 
So this friend of mine found this awesome deal on a BMW on the internet. I took a look at the ad and told him to cool down, it’s a fraud. How did I know? Well...

“Come on over,” he told me all excited, “check this out. BMW 318d, MY 2006, 125 000 km, silver metallic, only €6400.” I did come over and I did check it out. No phone numbers, just an e-mail address. Forget it, I say, that's a con. He is giving me that bovine look. What do you mean it's a con?

Alright, I'll show you what I mean. I set the search parameters, BMW 3-series, 2006, diesel, up to €7000. Plenty of ads to choose from.

The first one off the top of the list is nothing short of supercalifragilistic. Prioritized and highlighted ad, what a superb deal! See, this one has a phone number, my friend is eager to point out. Sure, let's give it a try. No answer. See, these here are the real deals, I browse mobile.de. If you open this link there is an actual website behind it, you get straight to the dealer's page. There is a street address, a landline, a fax number, a mobile phone number, date of registration on mobile.de, and so forth. See, here are all the cars, each with 250-300K km on the odo, and each more expensive than what you have found, even though that one was better equipped and with a lower mileage. Don't you find this strange? Yeah, okay it is strange, but what do you mean I get conned?

So I tell him this sort of fraud has been going on for at least a decade. Funny there are still people who haven't heard of them.

Here's how it works.

Your everyday customer sees the ad, can't believe his eyes, begins to add things up and thinks he has found the deal of the decade. He calls the number but since there is no answer he sends an e-mail stating his interest to buy. Response comes in a short while, the car is just purrfect, everything is legal, all repairs well documented, and the price is no typo. Your everyday customer may not know his way around cars but he isn't stupid, so he becomes slightly suspicious of the low price. The response will include one or more of the following reasons: I am leaving the country, the car belonged to my brother/wife/father/dog who has just died, and therefore it evokes bitter memories, I'd like to sell it, etc. Psychology 101 really: it is easy to get people worked up to a good deal. They see the ad, they become greedy and impatient, and they let down their guard. They are afraid to wait too long lest someone else should jump in and buy it. You see, you also thought this was a great deal. But you know what? Why don't we write this man an e-mail?

And so we did. The seller used the leon-fink@t-online.de e-mail address, I'll refer to him as CMF (as in conning m.. f..)

Me: “Good day I am interested in your car, please contact me.”

I wrote him in German but he responded in English.

CMF: “Hello, this is a great car, a beautiful car, I have all servicing documentation and invoices. €6000 is my final price. The car has never been damaged, and is not leased. If you don't speak English tell me your language and I'll write you in that language.“

(God bless Google Translate!)

Me: “I would like to buy the car, where and when can I take a look at it?”

CMF: “Before we move on I'd like you to know that I am already selling the car on Ebay. The vehicle is in Birmingham with a shipping company. You can pick up the car there or they can deliver it for you. If you would like to buy the car click the Buy it Now button on Ebay.”

Me: “Can you send me the registration certificate and the service booklet? Could you send me a photograph of the VIN number? I would like to verify the car with BMW. Please send me a link to your Ebay auction. Where can I contact your shipping company?”

CMF: “The company is called Continental Auto Transport” – (here's what Google gives you on that name) “The VIN number is WBAUX11050A333061. You may inspect the car but first you need to close the Ebay auction, after which you can pick up the vehicle with the payment slip. You have 24 hours to inspect the vehicle. If there is anything you don't like Ebay Buyer Protection will refund your entire purchase price. [Yeah right] Please let me know when you are ready to make the purchase so that we can create the Ebay auction”

I see, so the car isn't actually on Ebay yet, it will only go up for sale if I am a fool enough to pay him. Also, he has failed to give me a phone number to the shipping company. I called my friend Zsolti, a devoted BMW fan. He checks the VIN for me in ten minutes.

Me: “I have verified the VIN number with BMW. They say the car was manufactured in October 2008. Is that true? The car in the picture has an Austrian license plate, so why is it in Birmingham? Please excuse me for all the questions but this is the first time I try to buy a car online.”

CMF: (nothing)

Up until now his correspondence has been smooth and rapid but I seem to have chucked a wrench in the works. I must tell you I was a little disappointed. I thought the VIN number would match. The fact it doesn't means I caught an aspiring as.....ole instead if a full-fledged con master. But there were signs pointing to this. First of all it takes a real dumb rookie to post two different ads with the same photographs. No customer will be so naive as to overlook that detail. Second, he could have checked the VIN himself and posted a valid date of manufacture. Third, the license plate! He should have masked that, because, fourth, if you are selling a car that is registered in Austria you will be expected to speak German, so for feck's sake, don't respond in English if you receive a letter written in Deutsch.

After two days his ad is still up with the same photos.

You may wonder how Mr. CMF could acquire a valid VIN number for a silver BMW 318d Wagon. It is simple, really simple. You could easily do it yourself if you wanted to. Mr. CMF visits an Austrian used car ad site, finds what he is looking for, saves the images and contacts the owner. He says he wants to buy the car but would like to verify the VIN. Since it is a legit seller he is happy to provide the VIN, there is nothing wrong with the car. Bingo, CMF has his VIN and a matching car, cost him nothing and he has not revealed his identity. He can provide the number to those who ask. He probably made the silly mistake of mixing up details of cars he is conning with. Because he “has“ definitely more than these vehicles.

Here's another story. A friend wants to buy a Honda CR-V, preferably diesel but petrol is fine too.

I checked out this one, and this one

They are like a little piece of heaven on earth, with rear seat LCD screens and all the gimmickery you can think of. Another thing in common is that the phone numbers are dead and the entire story repeats the previous one. Contrast these cars with this one: a battered, damaged Honda used as a taxi cab, which however costs more than those two.

Back in 2004 I met a dealer who got conned this way. They regularly picked up cars with a trailer and their preferred means of communication was e-mail anyway, so they weren't suspicious. They shook on the cars, transferred a down payment of €2000 and dashed off to pick up the vehicles. Back in those days this fraud was just beginning to take off, there were very few great deals, so they genuinely thought they got lucky this time. Needless to say there was nothing at the listed address. That is when they first realized they got screwed. Since they had sent the money using Western Union they went to the nearest post office to check on the transactions. The money was withdrawn within an hour, in London. They went to the police to file a complaint; theirs was the third that day. A Croatian dealer was just completing his statement, and the police had started the day with a conned guy from Serbia.

Visiting the customs office one day I met this young lad. He was all excited. He had secured himself a left hand drive Golf IV TDI in Ireland, black paint, off-white interior, nice wheels, 80K km on the odo, service booklet, whatnot. It belonged to an Irish business man who had worked on the Continent but moved back home and found LHD a drag, so he'd like to sell the car as fast as he could. So I tell the lad this is bogus, forget about it, you'll lose out big time. No, no, it's legit, he says, it is all fine. Did you talk to the man or write e-mails? Mails, why? I asked him to show me the ad and the e-mails. He was wary to do so, he must have thought I would take the car before him. He gave in at last, and everything matched down to the last word. When I asked him if he'd already sent a down payment he got really uncomfortable and nervous. I bet he had paid the full price and he may already have bought the airplane ticket too.

Mr. CMF had vanished from sight, but by the time I got this far in this article he resurfaced

CMF: You are right, the date of manufacture is indeed 10/2008. I am currently on a business trip, I am experiencing difficulties and I do not want to lose this business. I chose to sell my car through Ebay because there is nobody I could ask to take care of the paperwork and the test drives. Let me know if you are ready to buy. If you have the money I will set up the Ebay auction. Would you like to pick up the car in person or should it be delivered to you?

Woohoo, of course it is from 2008 that makes the deal even sweeter. Your average unsuspecting Joe will no doubt be all itchy to see that he is getting an even younger car for the same small amount of money. Mr. CMF elegantly forgot about my question enquiring why an Austrian car would be stored in Birmingham.

Me: I would like to buy the car but I don't have an Ebay account. I would like to meet you in person, I don't mind the distance. I like to know the people I do business with, I give you the cash that is what I trust.

I was sure he was going to feed me some more bull but I was finished with the guy. I was wrong – he disappeared again. And then I got this weird, uncomfortable feeling.

There is a conning m...f.. somewhere in the world busy trying to part me with my money. Probably he thinks of this as a business venture, he may even believe that it is his legitimate job. He takes the kids to school, then he fires up the computer and starts to work.

I would like to meet this person, talk to him about when he got the first inspiration to do this. Ask where the idea came from. Was he trained at this? How did it feel when his first victim paid up? How much can he make a month? Is this still as hot a business as it used to be? How many can he still con? And how many cars is he selling at any given point? Isn't he afraid of being caught? How big is this network? Does he know his colleagues?

Mankind is indeed a strange beast.

I will bet you my life savings that, come judgment day, car dealers like me and politicians will be boiling in the same cauldron in hell. But I'll bet you even more that these sumbitches are going to be hauling coal with a white hot iron dildo up their behind forevermore.

Epilogue: two days pass and Mr. CMF returns my mail. He is dead set on Ebay but I am not going to respond to his mail any more.

Mr. CMF: Like I told you previously we first need to set up an inspection period because no-one at the shipping company is entitled to hand over the vehicle to you for inspection without seeing me or the payment slip. Please let me know if you are ready to make the Ebay transaction.

What a deal – I have to pay first, then I can inspect the car. If only there was one.

Ladies and Gentlemen, next time you see such a great deal, just move along without hesitation. You will not regret it. You will miss out on a bad experience, a few sleepless nights and a few strands of grey hair. You will also save a couple thousand Euros. Please keep in mind that THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH. You can't do nothing and still get richer. Such deals invariably end in tears. Thank you for your attention. Take care of yourselves and your wallets.

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