SAN ANTONIO – The ads looked enticing for a 2003 Dutchmen Classic RV with new tires, new mattress, clean and “ready to camp,” and it’s only $1,200. But buyer beware, advocates say, as fake ads pop up on online marketplaces. That bargain camper may just be a real steal.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing a spike in online private sellers using the pandemic as an accessory to fraud, meaning buyers can’t come see it or kick the tires, or they’re pressured to buy because of a COVID-related health issue,” said Jason Meza, with the South Texas Better Business Bureau.
In these times of social distancing, sales of new and used RVs have soared, and scammers know it.
From Kokomo to Charleston to College Station, Craigslist postings advertised a 2003 Dutchman by using the same photos. Descriptions and contact information varied, but all were going for the super low price of around $1,200.
One seller using the name Jessica responded to an inquiry by email, saying her husband died two months ago, and she moved back to her hometown.
“I prearranged a deal with eBay, so my presence isn’t necessary,” she wrote, adding later that she had contacted eBay’s Purchase Protection Program, eBay had the vehicle and would send an invoice with instructions to pay.
The real eBay confirmed the offer was a trick and includes fraud warnings to consumers on its website.
Targeting RV buyers is a somewhat new twist to an old scheme.
In April 2019, a New Braunfels woman thought she was buying a Nissan Maxima for $1,200.
“I was furious,” Tyler Hooper said then.
When she called the number on the eBay invoice, which she did not know was fabricated, she said she was assured the deal was legit. So she bought eBay gift cards and gave the codes to the “seller.”
“Once you scratch the numbers or give the code away, it’s gone,” Meza said. “It’s like dollars in the wind.”
To protect yourself from online scams, consumer advocates say you should never pay with gift cards or any unsecured payment method, beware prices that are way below market value and don’t buy what you can’t see.
“We should be pressing for Facetime interviews or walk-through videos,” Meza said. “Ask for VINs or the Carfax report. We should be asking lots of questions.”
Other red flags include a seller who will not meet in person or at least speak by phone, pressures the sale or offers an emotional appeal, such as a death in the family or military deployment.