Maryville man falls victim to online car sales scam

Investigations

The car you see for sale on Craigslist may have been posted by a scammer. A young man in Maryville learned this the hard way. He didn’t suspect it was a scam until he had sent off several thousand dollars.

Selling or buying cars has never been easier thanks to Craigslist, but scams await the unwary. Fraudulent postings are now a common occurrence. The crudest attempts are easily ignored, but some schemes can be more complex. 

One clever scam has the seller posing as a soldier, sailor or Marine about to ship out.

It was more than a year ago when Ethan Cunningham banged up his 16-year-old Honda Odyssey. There’s a lot of front end damage. It’s still drivable, but Cunningham hoped to get another vehicle. When he saw a 15-year-old Toyota 4 Runner on Craigslist it was a great deal – so he believed. 

“It was a 2004  It only had 92,000 miles, it was garage kept in excellent condition. It’s got no liens or loans on it. The price was reduced to $1,800. I thought it was too good to pass up. It was a really awesome deal,” Cunningham said.

Making the deal seem even sweeter, the seller, named Julie, claimed she was a soldier.

“National Guard and she was being shipped out for service to the country. That’s why she was trying to sell it so fast,” he said.

Then he received this message. Cunningham believed it was from the seller.

“Before leaving she had her car pre-arranged through eBay and her presence isn’t necessary,” Cunningham said.

He was sent another letter with directions from the scammer how to send the money. He didn’t know the letter was phony.

“The eBay that contacted me, I sent $1,800 in eBay gift cards. I had to take pictures of the gift cards and receipts and send them through what I thought was eBay,” he said.

Once the money was in the hands of the scammers, they wanted more money from Cunningham.

“They said they couldn’t ship it because the value of the car was undervalued by the seller,” he said.

This time they wanted $800 to cover some made-up insurance fee. Cunningham sent the payment and was assured he would get it back upon arrival.

Then they contacted him a third time.

“They wanted a thousand more dollars. They said it was a border fee. When they said that, that’s when I caught that it was a scam.  Nowhere is there going to be a border fee,” he said.

Here are the red flags about this phony deal: eBay is never involved with transactions from other sites like Craigslist, you cannot meet the seller or look at the vehicle prior to sending a payment, and the vehicle is advertised well below what it is worth.

Cunningham continues to drive his beat-up Honda. He hopes someday to find a used car locally. 

“If I can’t see the car in person, I’m not going to put money towards a car again,” Cunningham said.

Craigslist says on its website if you deal locally, face-to-face, you will avoid 99 percent of all scam attempts. Also, when you shop on Craigslist, make sure you know the approximate value of the item or product you are interested in buying. Criminals will make any item very appealing and will tempt you with a price you don’t want to miss out on.

For vehicle prices, use trusted resources like the Kelley Blue Book or NADA guides.

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