How does the typical vehicle sale scam work?
Let’s say I am in the market for a clean, small pickup truck for use around the house and moving kids off to college. I have browsed autotrader.com and cars.com and found the prices a bit too high for my taste. A neighbor mentions Craigslist.org, so I give it a try. Wow — I find the ad below and hurriedly read it. [click it to enlarge]
Yowza – that’s quite a bargain! So I fire up my email client and launch a note to John Wilson. In my haste, I misspell Ford and leave my caps lock on.Boy, am I ever excited. This vehicle is thousands, thousands of dollars less that the ones I saw on the lot at the local dealer last weekend. Early the next morning, John sends me an email:
What? Montana? I don’t know anybody in Montana! I was looking in Craigslist here in my city. Maybe it was just an honest mistake. [Note: the typical scammer script at this point would have included verbiage regarding the “free” shipping of the vehicle in his email. John appears to be an apprentice.] Observe that he ignored my question on gas mileage. I email him to let him know I am disappointed.
In the subsequent email, John apologizes for his mis-configured picture album and provides the details of how he will ship the vehicle to me and proposes the use of a (fake) escrow service.
At this point, the normal consumer would have replied to John regarding this somewhat unconventional process, and John would have replied with language to encourage the victim to expedite the process: he has other buyers waiting, he must sell in a hurry, he can’t spend much time dealing with this, etc. I’ll cut it short since this is such a great, once-in-a-lifetime deal and I don’t want to lose this deal to another buyer.
Within one hour, I receive this email from John:
And the email from his fake escrow company arrives soon thereafter. Here’s a screenshot:
Very professional-looking, yes? Scammers are not stupid, they are criminals.
If you haven’t gotten the message yet, never, ever (ever) send money to someone you do not know personally via Western Union (or MoneyGram). After the criminal has picked up the money, it is gone — poof — with very little traceability.
I did not continue my correspondence with the criminal. HAD I sent him money, he would have gone silent for a while. Upon subsequent prompting by the victim, the criminal would have made some lousy excuses, then is very likely to have demanded more money for some contrived fees: insurance, titling, etc. Since the victim is getting such a good bargain, the extra fees would appear to be financially viable to him. Said criminal will milk the victim for as long as he can.
What happened to the money? A mule or “arrow” would have picked up the money, subtracted his “commission”, then wired the money to perhaps another arrow, and he in turn might wire it back to Romania. You can see how that money trail would be very difficult for law enforcement to track. See a very good article here on a town that is a hotbed of cybercrime in Romania.