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updated 12/12/05

How to Spot an eBay Motors (or other) Scam!     How they work, who is stealing
by Keith MacDonald

This story takes place every week...

Harold Werner has just finished a 30-year career with the US Postal Service. The post office throws Harry a great retirement party, with many of Harry’s route customers, fellow employees and even postal workers from surrounding towns present to see him off.

With his work years behind him, Harry only wants to do one thing with his retirement and that is to find the car of his dreams, a 1965 GTO. He wants restore it to perfection and tinker with it in his garage. Harry’s wife is happy that he’ll be keeping himself busy and not hanging around the house and getting underfoot. Harry has saved for many years, not only for his retirement, but also for “just the right GTO".

Harry searches the local want ads, but can’t seem to find a ‘65 GTO and though he is not too web-savvy, he is pleased at how easy it is to navigate through to the Pontiac auctions. Harry quickly locates a near-perfect condition 1965 GTO on eBay. The seller is only asking $9,000 for it. Harry calls his wife to the computer. This car is a slam dunk!

The seller tells Harry he has been transferred to Italy by his company. The car is there, but emissions laws and high import taxes have made it impossible to register the car abroad. The seller will ship the car for free as soon as he receives a down payment of $5,000. Harry can inspect the GTO and send the balance upon acceptance of the vehicle.

The seller says he’ll begin the transaction through eBay and Square Trade. Almost immediately, Harry receives an email from eBay’s Square Trade Department and is instructed to send a $5,000 deposit to the seller via Western Union. It is "the safest and most secure method”, they claim.

Harry withdraws five-thousand dollars and stops by his local  Western Union office. Within minutes, Harry has sent the money and informs Square Trade that the money has been wired to the seller. Harry’s deposit is quickly picked up in Italy and he waits for notification of shipment. He begins to order catalogs from Ames Performance, Performance Years and OPG.

Meanwhile, in Romania....
In a cold, sparely-decorated cyber café in the city of Valcea, dozens of young Romanian men labor over computer keyboards. The air is thick with cigarette smoke, which creates a caustic mix when combined with “B.U.G. Mafia” -- Romania’s answer to American rap music. The raucous sound belches from a pair of worn, crackling speakers, which are hung on the bare cinder block walls.
The hazy chaos is suddenly interrupted by a celebration from 19-year old Marius Sandulescu. He stands on his chair and raises his arms.
“Bine! Multimesc, Multimesc!,” he yells out. (Great! Thank you, thank you!)
The clientele at the cyber café gives Marius a rounding applause before going back to their work. Marius grabs his coat and heads for the door. He is headed for the closest Western Union office.
Marius Sandulescu has just received a $5,000 transfer from Harry for a 1965 GTO that does not exist. In just a few hours at the cyber café, Marius has earned more than his father, Cosmin, will earn in an entire year working at a $400 per-month wage in a local factory.

Harry Werner has just lost $5,000 to Romanian eBay scammers. His retirement dreams have been shattered. He will eventually decide to take on a part-time job in order to start saving to replace the money he lost so quickly on eBay. For the time being, Harry’s wife is a little upset at his hasty reaction to the transaction; she isn’t speaking to him. Harry reminds himself that, in time, he’ll replace the money he lost and his wife of 40 years will forgive him.

Even sadder than Harry’s story, Marius Sandulescu could dupe several others into sending money for this GTO. Romanian scammers, utilizing eBay Motors, have been known to make $25-35 thousand from a single auto scam.

The above story is true. Only the names have been changed.

Sandulescu may also have mirrored scam auctions for this GTO on AutoTrader.com, Overstock.com and Yahoo Auto Auctions. His take could easily reach $50,000 before complaints remove the auctions. Marius knows that nobody in Romania has any interest in arresting him. In fact, for the year 2004, less than 50 scammers were arrested in a country that has several thousand scammers working at any given time.

Romanian auto auction scammers contributed significantly to the Federal Trade Commission’s cited $265 million in 2004 online fraud complaints. The report, released in Feb. of 2005, claims the total number of Internet-related complaints nearly doubled in 2004 to a total of 205,568.
Combining these with the 190,000 complaints received by the FBI’s “Internet Crime Complaint Center,” or IC3, it is easy to comprehend how Americans were scammed out of close to a half a billion dollars in 2004.  2005 looks like it will be worse.

Romanian scammers enjoy sharing photos of their windfalls with each other.  This is one of several  “cash flashers” that author Keith MacDonald has in his files. While this is the text from a cell phone scam, the majority of eBay Motors scams will look like this. The scammers rely heavily on English-translation templates and will use a rough model of this same message. This scammer liked to set up his money shots with a little humor.  Unfortunately, his superiors didn’t think this photo was funny, or becoming of a Romanian police officer and he was later arrested.

While Romanian scammers post fraudulent scams for plasma TVs, laptop computers, cell phones, Xbox 360s, bikes, boats and motorcycles, I am going to explain how to recognize an eBay Motors scam, so when you go looking for your next GTO, you can shop safely and with some protection.

How to Recognize an Auto Scam
There are several ways to spot a fraudulent auto auction. Becoming familiar with these red flags is much easier than losing a good chunk of your savings!

1  If a seller places his email address inside the description of the auction and claims he “can’t respond to Ask Seller a Question” it usually means he has hijacked a seller’s account. Using of the ASQ option would alert the actual account owner.
2  If the seller does not ask you contact him off eBay, he may have an account he has created with a stolen credit card. Be certain to check his feedback. Some scammers have fluffed-up feedback from other fraud accounts. Check to see what the seller has sold in the past few months. A seller who has sold over 200 toaster cozies until last week would hardly be selling a ‘69 Ram Air IV Judge this week.
3  If the seller requires that you contact him before bidding, it is usually a scam auction.  This is so they can weed-out us nasty scambaiters. Scammers don’t want you to warn other bidders of their scam, so they will often “privatize” the auction. Later, they will submit “Second Chance Offers” to everyone who bid, claiming that the winner defaulted on his payment and the car is now available for sale.
4  Any request for a wire transfer payment should send you running in the opposite direction. Ebay will never recommend using Western Union, Money Gram, or any other fund transfer service to pay for your items, except PayPal.
5  A legitimate eBay seller does not need to “notify eBay of our transaction,” but a scammer does. He will use this as an excuse to send official-looking “spoof” documents from eBay’s security departments. Square Trade and eBay’s Safe Harbor departments will never act as an escrow company by holding a seller’s shipment until your money arrives at his Western Union outlet.
6  Most scams are listed in 1-3 day auctions, so look for this as well. A scammer’s first priority is to get you off eBay and continue the deal via email. If you see that his auction has been prematurely TKO’d (i.e. invalidated by eBay), never continue the transaction – no matter what he uses for an excuse.
7  If the auction is located in the USA, but the seller claims to have the product somewhere overseas, you can be 99% certain it is a Romanian scam. The Romanians have Western Union bag men, or “mules” in Spain, Italy, Greece and the UK. When you send your money to another country, it is usually picked-up by a mule, who keeps 30-40% and forwards the rest to Romania.
8  The latest scam by Romanian scammers is a “BidPay” spoof.  If you are purchasing a product on eBay and receive a directive to pay via Western Union using BidPay, please read the text very carefully. You will see several very bad misspellings and poorly constructed sentences.
9  Experienced scambaiters look for a very common Romania misusage of the word “information.” Romanians will very often pluralize the word, as "infos” or “informations.”
10  If an auction description contains the words, “this is not a scam,” it very often will be.

Finally, if you have any questions, or would like to purchase a GTO or other Pontiac on eBay, feel free to email the author, Keith MacDonald at ec_musclecars@yahoo.com. This is an email account I use to warn victims and email scammers, so I can track their locations. I will be happy to investigate any Pontiac auction for you, before you send your hard-earned cash to a stranger. I have killed over 700 fraudulent eBay Motors auctions in 2005 and am very familiar with the tactics and lies that these criminals use to trick the buyers.

Stay safe, investigate the seller and buy wisely.

© 2005 Keith MacDonald All Rights Reserved.

Feel free to print this off, post it in your office and send it to friends, but please retain Keith MacDonald's name as the author of this piece. Thanks.  Keith wrote the Milt Schornack biography...
coverMilt Schornack and the Royal Bobcat GTOs book by Keith MacDonald & Milt Schornack available at http://www.gtobook.com/ultgto.html
For a fun trip back in time, get Keith's “Woodward Avenue” the first-ever GTO musclecar novel available at Amazon.com here...

and "Woodward Avenue" – available worldwide at http://www.bookfinder4u.com/IsbnSearch.aspx?isbn=1411652991&mode=direct


Nigeria = seen here on a map
Romania =  seen here on a map
scambaiter = A person who is trying to catch a scammer in the act.  May or may not be a member of law enforcement.  A scambaiter may pose as a victim in order to help close down a scammer.


(1)  Consumer Guide To Avoiding eBay Fraud, Escrow Internet Fraud, Check Fraud, Auto Fraud, and Nigerian Scams at http://www.carbuyingtips.com/fraud.htm
(2) Scambusters.org helps protect from clever scams online and offline at http://www.scambusters.org
(3) Hemmings Motor News has tips at  http://www.hemmings.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/resources.tips
(4) Nigerian scams detailed by the BBC at  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3887493.stm
(5) An online community that finds thieves and makes them look goofy http://www.thescambaiter.com
(6) How a legitimate car seller can get scammed, showing a real example http://www.swapmeetdave.com/Scam/index.htm

Thanks To... logo

Thanks to Keith MacDonald for writing the above article called How to Spot an eBay Motors (or other) Scam! for readers of UltimateGTO.com. Look for updates here from time-to-time.

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