NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas - With its shiny black exterior, V-6 engine, leather seats and entertainment system, the 2010 Nissan Maxima listed online for $1,200 looked like a steal. Turns out, it was.
"They have nothing better to do than to scam people," said Tyler Hooper, the latest person to be ripped off in a shady car scheme that's gone on for years.
Hooper said she first spotted the car on Craigslist.
"I was just looking for any car so I can get back and forth to work," she said.
The Nissan caught her eye. So she contacted the seller, a woman who claimed she need to sell the car because she was about to be deployed.
To seal the deal, Hooper said they were to use eBay Motor's Vehicle Protection Program. The invoice included the eBay logo and appeared to come from an eBay email address. The payment was to be made in eBay gift cards.
Hooper bought a half dozen eBay gift cards worth a total $1,200. As instructed, she snapped pictures of the codes on the backs of the cards and sent them to the seller.
"I called eBay, and they said, 'Yes, everything is fine,'" Hooper said.
The problem was she only thought she was calling eBay. The number on the invoice was a fake.
When Hooper received another email from the seller requesting another $1,000 in gift cards for shipping insurance, she got suspicious and called the real eBay.
"They had no record of anything whatsoever," she said. "I was furious."
It's a scenario eBay is familiar with and even has warnings on its website.
In a statement, eBay said:
"Unfortunately, these types of perceived transactions are scams and do not take place on eBay. Scam artists will list items for sale on fake landing pages, Craigslist or other non-eBay trading sites, and promise eBay's protection as a means of completing the scam. Criminals often exploit well-known, trusted brand names like eBay to attract consumers and then lure them onto fake websites and into fraudulent transactions. We always encourage all our shoppers to be cautious when they aren't purchasing directly through the eBay website."
EBay and the Better Business Bureau advise buyers to beware of sellers who want fast cash -- especially gift cards, if you can't meet or see the car in person and prices that are extremely low.
"If you're looking at a car way below book value, if it just looks like a steal, be extra vigilant," said Jason Meza, a BBB San Antonio spokesman.
As for Hooper, she's out $1,200 and wants to warn others so they don't get taken for a ride.
EBay provides more tips for safe shopping and warning signs to look out for scams on the eBay Security Center page.
EBay worked collaboratively with the FBI recently to put out a warning on this scam: https://www.ic3.gov/media/2018/180117.aspx; https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-fraud-schemes/online-vehicle-sale-fraud
More warning signs provided by eBay:
You cannot meet the seller or look at the equipment or vehicle prior to sending a payment. The seller may be very polite and apologetic, but cannot meet you due to a special circumstance, such as:
- Seller is being/has been deployed by the military.
- Seller is going through a divorce (or getting married).
- Death in the family or a health issue of a relative.
- They work on a boat or are out of town for an extended period of time.
- Received through inheritance and not needed.
FACT: Legitimate sellers are motivated and will make every effort to meet with all potential buyers immediately. If the seller cannot meet, they will designate another person to show the vehicle on their behalf.
You found the equipment or vehicle on another website and the seller tells you eBay will protect the transaction, such as:
- Extend an eBay warranty, eBay guarantee or a buyer's protection plan.
- Offer a return policy in case you are not satisfied (like a "cooling off" period).
- Process the payment directly or hold/secure the funds.
FACT: eBay provides Vehicle Purchase Protection only for transactions that start and are completed on the eBay Motors website (other terms and conditions apply). In addition, eBay does NOT hold payments or extend protection for non-eBay conducted transactions.
The only way to buy equipment or a vehicle on eBay is by logging into your eBay account with a user ID/email address and password. One of the following needs to be true:
- You were the winning bidder on the auction.
- You clicked "Buy it now."
- You sent a best offer and the seller accepted it.
- In these cases, the item will always appear in the purchase history of your eBay account.
Criminals want to lure you into feeling safe. They take extra effort to disguise their websites and emails to look like they are from eBay or associated with eBay, when they are not. See the following examples:
- Emails have poor grammar, broken English or have other distinguishing errors (e.g., misspelled words, incorrect punctuation).
- Communications may be overly formal or sound very mechanical. The responses are not personalized and could include general terms, such as "Dear Sir" and "Good Day."
- Emails are not sent from the "eBay.com" domain. Criminals may have a recognizable word in their email name or as part of their domain name, such as "eBay" or "VPP" (e.g.,eBay@vppinsurance.com) but these are NOT sent from eBay.
- Email contains false information like invoice numbers, transaction case IDs or VPP case ID numbers.
If you are suspicious about an email that claims to be from eBay, sign in to My eBay and click the Messages tab. If you do NOT see the same message "From eBay," the email is likely fake. To report a fake email, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are still unsure if the vehicle being offered is legitimate, contact eBay customer service.
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