MY NEIGHBOUR’S brotherin- law has a mate whose cousin is sorting out their grandfather’s estate. They tell me there is a one owner 1967 Mustang fastback, all original, low miles, sitting in a shed in Tasmania. If I send them a thousand bucks, they will bring it to the mainland and I can tell them what it is worth.
I have stumbled on scam ads before – who hasn’t? Mostly they can be picked from miles away. The ancient caution “if it seems to be too good to be true – it probably is” always applies.
Late last year I bought a 1969 Alfa Romeo 1750 Duetto Spider. Imagine my horror when a mate with too much time on his hands was trawling the internet and found…my car. Advertised for sale on a UK website, the exact same photos that attracted me to buy the Alfa last year are reproduced with the exact same words from the ad.
The website offers my car for US$2450, clearly a fraction of its real value. The UK buyers are told the car is in Geelong, Australia – but can be transported to them upon payment of a deposit.
So there it is – a “fee forward” scam, as the police and consumer affairs departments call them. It works like this. The hook is baited with something exotic and rare. You get a rush of blood to the head, excited at the ‘bargain’ you have found, typically on the other side of the world. The ‘seller’ exchanges emails, professes their ignorance of the car’s rarity and says a variation of “I inherited it from my step-Dad…we just want it out of the shed. No idea what it is worth – send me a deposit, we will ship the car to you and when you get to see it you can tell us what it is worth and we will trust you to send the rest of the money to us.”
What follows is a sad tale of woe. You send the deposit, the car never materialises, you start asking where it is, they vanish.
I first saw this technique applied a few years back with an ad online for a convertible 1960s Citroen DS. These fetch several hundred thousand dollars. An ad – with photos – claimed that a DS ‘Chapron’ was in Indonesia, part of the deceased estate of an expat American who had brought it over in the 70s. The ‘seller’ claimed to know nothing of its value, but offered to send it to me if I would just advance enough to cover the shipping.
They assured me by email that, once it arrived, I would be able to assess its condition and tell them its true worth.
They claimed the car was in Surabaya. On exchanging the eleventh email, and loving the game and toying with them, I claimed I was going to Bali next week and I could pop across to Java and have a look.
All correspondence ceased immediately. Some internet searching later, I discovered the exact same photos on the website of a renowned and legitimate Dutch restoration business.
So what can I do about becoming the victim of auto identity theft? My car is being re-advertised in the UK when it is most certainly not for sale. I have tried to contact the ‘seller’ to warn them off, but I assume they are also in the middle of distributing the proceeds of the secret bank accounts left over from the estate of Princess Diana and also flat out negotiating and transacting Nigerian petro-dollar millions, they are clearly too busy to respond.
Can I be bothered telling Interpol? The Fraud Squad?
Or do we just spread the word within the car collector community – so that a better informed marketplace can giggle at these idiots instead of enriching them. We have all been warned.