Editor’s Note: This story was submitted by a Hoax-Slayer reader as a warning to other Internet users. Names and other details have been changed to protect the privacy of the victim.
I was very nearly taken in by a scam but was lucky enough to find out what was going on before I parted with my money. Although my experience relates to the sale of a used VW campervan, the same scenario could be used by scammers for any item sold on the Internet. The lesson is that if the price for something is too good to be true, then you should proceed with extreme caution.
In March 2012 I was looking for a VW campervan. I found a bargain (or so I thought) on the Autotrader website. 1978 VW Devon Moonraker campervan 12,000 miles, £4,000. I had seen a similar model on sale for £25,000 so I thought I was onto a winner. Catherine, the person who was selling this used a hotmail email address. The seller said that she was in the armed forces and that she needed to sell this fast as she was due to be deployed to Afghanistan, hence the low price. I expressed an interest in viewing the vehicle but was told that the vehicle was in a military camp in Scotland (I was in another part of the UK).
I told her I was not going to proceed without seeing it and she said that she had a solution. She said I could pay through Google Safe pay solutions whereby I pay the money to Google and they hold it. In the meantime she would arrange delivery of the vehicle to me at no charge for me to inspect it. If I am happy with the vehicle I can then instruct Google to make the payment to her.
I was a little suspicious so I read all about Google Safe Pay/Google Checkout and the scenario was just as she had described, that they hold the money and don’t release it to her until I say so. The way it works is that she opens a transaction and names me as the buyer and I am supposed to receive an email from Google requesting the money. The email from Google did not arrive so I contacted the seller. She said she would forward a copy to me, and that is how the scam works.
What she actually sent to me was an email sent from an address designed to look like it came from Google. The email had her bank account details on it (see transcript below). I was supposed to make the payment which would have gone directly into her bank account and would not have been held by Google at all.
Fortunately for me I was searching the web looking for information about this particular model of campervan when I came across a website selling the very same vehicle – same registration number but this one was for £25,000. I contacted the company to ask them why they were selling a campervan that I was just about to buy from somebody in Scotland. The lady on the phone told me that the campervan in question was in their yard and that she had recently received a phone call from a distraught lady that had fallen for the same scam that I was just about to. She related the story about the military base in Scotland, Google Checkout, being deployed to Afghanistan etc and it was exactly the same story that I was living! I couldn’t believe it.
I contacted Autotrader and my local Trading Standards Office. Autotrader removed the bogus ad from their website and Trading Standards tried to investigate the matter but came against a brick wall when trying to gain information about the identity of the bank account number I was supposed to pay the money into. This unscrupulous crook even had the audacity to get shirty with me for not making a prompt payment. I quickly told her/him (as Catherine is probably just a made up identity) what I thought of them. I felt such a fool, I even thanked this person for being in the armed forces and for protecting the likes of me, when all along they were robbing the likes of me!
This can happen for any merchandise that is advertised on the Internet. The crooks simply copy the genuine advert and post a bogus one on a selling website. This time it was Autotrader but it could be any selling advertising website. They just change the contact details.
Since this experience I have spotted a few other ads for campervans that I was suspicious of and forwarded the details to Trading Standards to investigate but unfortunately to no avail. I want to do my best to make sure nobody else falls for this. It is such easy money for them, they only post an ad and send a few emails and they get thousands of pounds a time. I hope they can be stopped and I count myself very lucky to have realised before I gave them my money.
Transcript of fake email:
Subject: Good news! Google Checkout Transaction # 674541116884524 Started! Purchase Protection Granted!
Google Checkout sent this message to Marcia *********** ,
Your registered name is included to show this message originated from Google Checkout.
Your invoice for purchase – 1978 VOLKSWAGEN CAMPERVAN DEVON MOONRAKER
Invoice for VPP Transaction Case ID Google order number: 674541116884524 between Catherine ******** , as the Seller and Marcia ******* , as the Buyer. Please follow our instructions to complete the transaction safely.
The selling of this item is in compliance with Google Checkout policy, you will be able to exchange feedback with the seller and will be eligible for all Google Checkout services associated with a transaction, such as fraud protection.
Complete the transaction in 5 easy steps:
1. Buyer and Seller agree on the transaction terms and a selling price. Seller contacts Google Checkout with the transaction details;
2. Google Checkout accepts the transaction and offers purchase protection to the Buyer (if the transaction is declined, no further action is required from neither Buyer or Seller);
3. The Buyer receives an invoice and sends the payment to Google Checkout. After the payment is verified by Google Checkout Staff, the Seller will initiate the shipping. The Seller has three (3) business days to provide a tracking number to both the Buyer and Google Checkout. If no tracking number is provided, a full refund is immediately sent to the Buyer;
4. The Buyer receives the vehicle and has 7 business days to inspect it. If it is as described and as agreed, the Buyer should accept the vehicle. If he refuses it, the item will be shipped back at the Seller’s expense;
5. After the inspection period is over (7 business days), the Buyer must contact Google Checkout with the result of the inspection. If the Buyer refuses the vehicle, he will receive the refund only after the returned shipment has been started. The Buyer will not receive the refund while the item is in his/her possession. If the Buyer accepts the vehicle, the payment will be sent to the Seller within three (3) business days.
Pay for your purchase through Bank Wire Transfer:
We require the payment for this item to be done through bank wire transfer:
Go to your bank office or access your online banking service;
Send the payment using the Google Checkout Representative Bank Account Details;
Confirm the payment to Google Checkout Customer Support at: [site removed]
Fax us the copy of the receipt at fax # : [removed]
Purchase protection and refund:
Currently,this seller has a £20,000.00 deposit in an Google Checkout managed purchase protection account. Transactions with this Google Checkout seller are covered by purchase protection against fraud and description errors. For your safety, this account was locked today, for 30 days time. The seller is unable to withdraw any money from it, within this period. Should you need a refund for this transaction, the insured amount will be taken from the seller’s purchase protection account and sent to you. The refund is sent to your bank account, by check or money order. The way you are refunded is at your choice. You have 30 days from the above verification date to request a refund. Refund requests are processed within 3 days. This transaction is supervised by Google Checkout team.
Vehicle Purchase Protection Overview:
Buy with confidence trough Google Checkout! The Vehicle Purchase Protection program protects your vehicle purchase against fraud and material misrepresentation. This program is provided by Google Checkout for FREE on all eligible vehicle transactions completed on Google Checkout.
The following types of fraud and material misrepresentation are covered:
Paying for a vehicle and never receiving it;
Sending a deposit for a vehicle and never receiving the vehicle;
Paying for and receiving a vehicle:
That was a stolen vehicle at the time of the transaction;
With an undisclosed or unknown lien against its title;
Of a make and/or model that is different than what was described in the seller’s listing;
Without receiving the title for that vehicle from the seller, if it is impossible for you to obtain a title from the appropriate Department of Motor Vehicles;
Whose title is subject to an undisclosed salvage, rebuilt, reconstructed, scrapped/destroyed, junk, lemon, manufacturer buyback, or water damage title brand at the time of the sale;
With a model year that is different than the model year described in the seller’s listing;
With an odometer reading that is different than the odometer reading described in the seller’s listing.
Your vehicle purchase is protected for up to £20,000.00 or the vehicle purchase price, whichever is lower. The program covers Cars, Trucks, Motorcycles, ATVs, Go-Karts, Scooters, Mopeds, Personal Watercraft, Snowmobiles, Boats, Buses, Commercial Trucks, Race Cars, RVs and Campers, Trailers.
For any questions please contact us at: [Removed]
Thank you again for your purchase.