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The Car Buying Scam

Here's a description of how the vehicle (car, truck, motorcycle) buying scam works from the original ad to the (sometimes bitter) end. You can read all the e-mail correspondence, check out the original ad, and see a copy of a bogus cashier's check.

Nine unbelievable
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Car For Sale Cartoon


How the Buying & Selling Scam Works in a Nutshell.

Legitimate Seller (LS) places an ad for the vehicle on the Internet (or elsewhere) with an e-mail address for responses.

Scamster Buyer (SB) responds to ad saying he'll pay the full asking price plus some extra. Different reasons are given for the extra amount, usually for shipping the vehicle to a foreign country or because someone owes SB some money. The extra amount is usually between $4,000 and $10,000. Moreover, SB offers to pay with a cashier's check!

LS is amazed and delighted to be able to sell his vehicle for the full asking price and responds to SB.

SB responds immediately but then some kind of delay usually crops up.

Eventually, SB sends the cashier's check to LS, but it is mailed from a foreign country (to thwart USPS investigators checking on postal fraud).

LS replies to SB that the cashier's check has arrived and, presumably, deposits it in his bank. The bank honors the cachier's check (usually within 1 or 2 days) and makes the money available to LS.

SB urgently requests that the difference between the cashier's check and the cost of the vehicle be sent or wired to his shipping agent after which he will make arrangements to pick up the vehicle. Sometimes a bank transfer is requested.

LS sends or wires the money or makes a transfer to SB's account.

Days or weeks later, LS is informed by his bank that the cashier's check is counterfeit. SB has disappeared. The vehicle is never picked up.

Read on for a real example of the scam from start to finish...
 

Chevy front left The original ad appeared on my web site back in early 2003. Here's what it said: "This 1½-ton Chevrolet G-7107 truck was delivered to the military in April 1942 as a cargo truck. The crash truck body and Marquette manual wrecker boom were added later, but probably while the truck was still in use by the military. The same boom was installed on 50 Ford GTBB 1½-ton wrecker/service trucks. It is likely that the truck was used by the U.S. Army Air Corps, probably in Korea.
Restoration work has been started. The body has been completely sandblasted, all of the rust has been removed, holes patched, metal straightened, and it has four coats of primer. The engine had a depot rebuild in 1961, although it is not currently running. I have new wiring harnesses, stainless steel brake lines, and many other new parts, but they must be installed. The cab, obviously, needs a great deal of work.
I have $4500 into this project, but I'll consider any reasonable offer or a trade for a quad ATV or some interesting vehicle that will fit in my garage. Call me, David Ahl (Tel: 973-285-0716) and let's talk about it."
 

On February 12, 2004, I received this e-mail (I have made no corrections at all in spelling, grammar, or punctuation in this or any of the following correspondence).

Subject: INTEREST IN 1942 Chevy 1-1/2-ton USAAF Wrecker
Date: 2/12/2004 10:51:15 AM Eastern Standard Time
From: smith_buyer@yahoo.ca

I learnt that you want to sell 1942 Chevy 1-1/2-ton USAAF Wrecker in the advert you made on internet. That bid for $4900 Which i have interest in buying all of the parts (Firstly i wanna know the condition and i wanna let you know that the term of my payment is by Cashier's Cheque, because sometimes ago a client of my own me some money the amount of $9500 and he has promise to issue me a cheque so you will stand on my behalf which mean the cheque will be written in your name ,so send your details both your Name, Address and your phone number so that i can insruct him to made the cheque in your name but will the trust you will diduct your own money and help me to send the remaining balance to my shipping company for the pickup of the goods.

So you don't bother about the shippment because i have my shipping company to ship the good.

Hope to hear from you asap.
 

This was my reply on 2/13/04

Hi:
Pretty much all the information about the wrecker plus photos are on my web site at http://www.swapmeetdave.com/Chevy/index.html. The engine hasn't been turned over in many years, so it may (or may not) be stuck. I have many cartons of new parts (glass, brake lines, wiring harnesses, etc.) that go with the truck. Re: payment. I would insist on having your check clear before shipping the vehicle or issuing a check for the difference in price. The vehicle is located in Parsippany, New Jersey right off Interstate 80. It weighs a bit over 4 tons, length 224", width 86"

Ciao,
David Ahl
 

smith_buyer replied on 2/15/04 as follows.

Hi,
Thanks for your mail i can now instructed my client to made the cheque in your name but for now is not around but immediately when he come back to country i will told him to send it to you and i will also let you know when is about to send it to you but don't forget about the balance i told you that you will send to my shippiong company for the pickup not cheque but CASH because i have already to him i will pay him by CASH,so be expecting the cheque as soon as possible.

Hope to hear from you asap
 

smith_buyer sent another e-mail on 2/22/04:

Hi,
I hope you read my last mail which i sent to you that when my client is ready to issue the cheque i will let you know,Now he just call me that the cheque has been written in your name that he will send it to you by nextweek so be expecting the cheque as soon as possible.

Re;Payment like you told me ealier that you will issue my shipping company a cheque for the remaining balance you know i told you that have told him that i will paid him in cash but when i informed him that the balance will be send by my business transaction that you said that you will paid by cheque he said that is okay that he also prefer cheque so,Plz as soon as you recieve the cheque mail me immediately so that i can send you my shipping company details in which the cheque will be send to and as soon as you send it you will send me the tracking number so that i can track it.

Thanks for your understanding and concern.
 

I received nothing and figured that smith_buyer must have changed his mind about the whole thing.
 

But then, 6 weeks later on 4/8/04, this e-mail arrived:

Hello,
I am sorry for not mailling since all this while.am in Hospital for some weeks now,That is why you didn't see my mail.I called my client this morning and he told me that he has send you the cheque.so i want you to alert of the cheque so that you can make all the necessary information.so on my next mail i will give you the address of my shipper so that you can contact him.but don't forget that as soon as you get the cheque you will deduct your own and send the ramaining funds to my shipper for the necessary things to do,also let me know as soon as you recieve the cheque with you.

Secondly for now try to get the nearest CASHING POINT so that as soon as you recieve the cheque with you just take it there and cash it immediately and deduct your own so that you can send the balance to my shipper for the pickup because he had some other things to ship for me over there.Also get the truck ready for now with does things which you said is going with it.

hope to read from you soon,regards.

Thanks for your nunderstanding and concerning.
Jeff
 

Ah, ha! "smith_buyer" now has a name, "Jeff."
 

Return address Two months pass. Then on Friday, 6/11/04 the check finally arrives! The check comes alone with no cover letter or any explanation in a plain white envelope mailed 6/3/04 from Rotterdam, Netherlands. The return address is "John David, Groen Hilledijk 208B, 3074 AB R'Dam, Netherland."

The check, dated 5/20/04, is a cashier's check for the amount of $9,500 drawn on Peoples Bank of Northern Kentucky. It is made out to Ciao, David Aw and has a remitter's name of Jonathan Ben.

Cashier's check

I note that several things look "wrong" about the check. First, it is not trimmed squarely with the border. Second, under a magnifying glass, the micro-print signature line is blurry and indistinct. Third, the paper does not have a watermark or thermochromic icon as it should.

Nevertheless, I take it to my bank and ask for a second opinion. The teller sees no problem with it, nor does a bank officer (which in my humble opinion is a sad commentary on typical bank employees today). I point out the problems I see in the check and the bank officer reluctantly offers to call Peoples Bank of Kentucky to check on it. After two phone calls and an on-line check with the Kentucky Department of Financial Institutions, we learn that Peoples Bank is defunct and has been acquired by the Bank of Kentucky. Will they honor this check? No one seems to have a definitive answer, but the sense I'm getting is "probably not." I'm reluctant to deposit it since a bounced check will cost me $20. But "Jeff" doesn't have to know that, so I send him the following e-mail on 6/16/04.

Hi Jeff:
I received your cashier's check for $9,500 today for my Chevy 1-1/2-ton USAAF Wrecker. The check is made out to "Ciao, David Aw" instead of to my name which is "David Ahl" but I think I'll be able to cash it. When do you want to pick up the truck? (By the way, "ciao" is an Italian word of greeting or parting that I often use in my letters and e-mail because my daughter lives in Italy.)
Best regards,
David Ahl
 

Two days later on 6/18/04 I receive this reply:

Thanks for your respond now as will agreed before that you will deduct your own $4900 and send the balance of $4,600 to my shipping company for the pick up of the Chevy Wrecker so now i will send you my shipping company address in which the balance will be sent to,and note they will be expecting cash not cashier cheque, made the cash sent today so that they can come for the pick up immediately.Also deduct the cost of sending the money to my shipping copmany from the excess funds.Please do send it rigth now because you know the transaction is already been delayed for sometimes back and my shipping company have been hurried.
Here is my shipping company information below

YOUSOUF KAZEEM MARTINGS
262A ZUISDOEK
3082 PV
ROTTERDAM ,NETHERLAND.

As soon as you sent the cash,get back to me with the following information below

1. SENDER NAME
2.QUESTION AND ANSWER
3. MTNC NUMBER.
4. THE ACTUAL AMOUNT YOU SEND

Hope to hear from you asap
Thanks for your understaning and concerning.
 

Ah, yes, the famous "QUESTION AND ANSWER." Items #2 and #3 are a bit of a mystery now, but become clearer later on (read on).

Remember back in February "Jeff" was looking for a check, but now he wants cash. That amount of cash ($4,600), even in hundred-dollar bills, is quite a wad, almost 1/4" thick. I know people who are reluctant to send even $5 in cash to the next state and his fellow thinks I'm going to send $4,600 to Holland. Maybe when pigs fly. I do nothing and don't reply to the e-mail.
 

A day later on 6/19/04 I receive this. (He's getting anxious)

Hi,
Hope you see my last mail with the information of my shipping company in which the remaining balance will be sent to for the pick up of the Chevy Wrecker,hope the Chevy Wrecker is still in the condition you told me ealier,please mail back instantly with the information i told you to send to me as soon as you send down the funds to my shipping company so that they can come for the pick up immediately note you will send cash not cashier's cheque.

Hope to hear from you asap.

Thanks for your understanding and concerning.
 

As a result of my taking a trip to Colorado to cover the Pikes Peak Hill Climb Race and to research an article on a military museum, I send this on 6/22/04.

Hi Jeff:
I had to take a short unexpected business trip to Colorado but I will be back Monday, June 28 and take care of our transaction. (That's why this is not coming to you from my regular e-mail address, swapmeetdave@aol.com)

Regards,
Dave Ahl
 

In response on 6/23/04 I receive this.

Hi,
OK i will be expecting you have a nice trip but please you know the transaction have been delayed already so for now as soon as you back do make my truck arrange and send the balance to my shipping company so that they can come for he pick up immediately.

If you can recollect you know i told you that the truck will be used in carriny goods from one store to another so things have set for now make it insantly.

Hope to hear form you asap.

Thanks for your understanding and concerning.

Then on 6/28 this came:

Hi,
Hope you have back home and you have a nice trip thank GOD for that,now that you are back pls i will appreciate if you can send to my shipping company so that they can come for the pick up of my truck is like i told you that the truck is needed here seriously pls do send the money intime to my shipping company.

I will be looking forward to recieve my truck from my shipping company as soon as you send the balance to them.

Thanks for your understanding and corcerning.

Hope to hear from you asap.
 

It's time to bring this whole thing to a close but before doing so, on 6/28/04 I call the FBI in Newark, NJ to report it. They're not interested in a "low value" fraud and tell me to report it to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center www.ic3.gov. But since that web site is generally for frauds that have already take place and this one is still in progress, so to speak, I decide to report it to the "Submit a Tip" page of the FBI web site https://tips.fbi.gov

I explain the scam and provide all the details and offer to turn over the fake check and envelope it came in along with the e-mail trail.
 

FBI banner Less than a day later, I receive this response from the FBI.

Dear Mr Ahl
THIS IS NOT AN AUTOMATED RESPONSE

Thank you for your submission to the FBI Internet Tip Line. In as much as the FBI receives reports of this type of activity on a regular basis there is no need to forward any such additional emails to us.

A review of the information you provided revealed that you are being approached over the Internet to participate in one of many variations of an advance fee scheme being perpetrated by individuals from various West African nations, particularly Nigeria. This scam has also become popular and perpetrated by individuals all over the world, including in Korea and the UK. Victims have lost substantial funds in the past and all requests for travel to foreign locations should be ignored. The United States Secret Service (USSS) has developed an excellent, detailed description of this fraud scheme, which can be accessed at www.secretservice.gov/alert419.shtml. If you have been victimized by one of these schemes, please forward appropriate written documentation to the USSS, Financial Crimes Division, 950 H Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20223, or contact them via telephone at (202) 406-5850. We encourage you to share this Web page with family and friends. Your continued cooperation in this and other matters is greatly appreciated.

[Although the FBI identified this as an "advanced fee fraud," it is NOT and the Secret Service web site noted, while interesting, has no relevant information about this type of fraud.]
 

Jeff still hasn't given up. On 7/7/04 he sends me this.

Hi,
I called you on yesterday but your phone was on voicemail this is the number i called 973-285-0716 pls give me your cell phone and hope you have through for now so do as we agreed ealier to my shipping company.

Hope to hear from you asap.
 

He calls again and I attempt to talk to him but his speech is garbled and unintelligible. I've heard that sometimes in this scam after the seller sends the money for shipping the buyer attempts to back out. So I throw out some bait in this e-mail.

Hi Jeff:
Sorry, I have been very busy and had some family problems. But I finally deposited your check in the bank and took out the cash to send to you. Even in large bills, $4,600 is a very large packet of cash, but I packaged it carefully and will put it in the mail tomorrow to your agent.

So you can expect it soon. When do you want the Chevy truck?

Regards,
Dave Ahl
 

Uh oh, now he doesn't want cash; he wants it by Western Union. And we have the "Question and Answer" business again, but now it makes sense because Western Union requires the recipient of money to answer a question provided by the sender. Also, the recipient must have the 10-digit Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN) in order to receive the cash. He sends this on 7/11/04:

Hi David,
Thanks for your response since all these while anyway hope you have through with your family for now and hope no problem again may the problem never happen again in the name of GOD.

Well conrcerning the delaying it happen like that sometimes that is business you said the money will be sent to my shipping company today please do that immediately and as soon as they receive the money they will come for the pick up instantly also to remaind you that you have to send the money through western union transfer and get back to me with the following information as soon as you send it so that they can be able to collect the money with the information you send to me here is the infromation below.....
1.SENDER NAME
2.MTCN NUMBER
3.QUESTION AND ANSWER

A day later on 7/12/04 this anxious reminder arrives:

Hi David,
I have been expecting your response since you said you will send the money to my shipping company today,so i contacted them immediately and now they just call me that they have not recieved the payment,please try to send it right now so that they can come for the pickup of my truck like i told you ealier that the truck is needed here in my stores.

Just to remind you that you will send the money by western union transfer and get back to me with the information i told you,like
sender name
mtcn number
question and answer

. Hope to hear from you asap.
 

Now he's calling two and three times a day. My wife (a linguist) listens to the messages and opines that he is speaking Arabic with a few English words thrown in. Since no law enforcement agency has taken any real interest, I decide it's time to pull the plug. So on 7/13/04, I send him this.

Hi Jeff (or whatever your name is):
Your cashier's check is FAKE! You're trying to CHEAT me. I've turned over everything to the FBI and I'm sure you be hearing from the FBI or from Interpol very soon. Why don't you get an honest job instead of trying to cheat people out of their money?

And don't go throwing around the name of God because He takes a very dim view of cheating and fraud. Here is what the Bible says about fraud in Micah 2:1-3. Woe to you who lie awake at night, plotting wickedness; you rise at dawn to carry out your schemes; because you can, you do. You want a certain piece of land or someone else's house (though it is all he has); you take it by fraud and threats and violence. But the Lord God says, "I will reward your evil with evil; nothing can stop me; never again will you be proud and haughty after I am through with you."

Do not call or contact me again.
David Ahl
 

Scam is widespread all over the world.

The auto buying scam surfaced around 2002 with the first "offers to buy" coming from Nigeria. It seems somewhat more believable than the money transfer scam that offers you millions of dollars if you'll just allow some ill-gotten gains to be transferred into your bank account.

The auto buying scam works for three reasons: first, the amount of money is not totally outrageous. Second, it is a response to your ad rather than an e-mail out of the blue. Third, your bank will give you immediate access to cash when they receive a cashier's check from another bank. It then takes a good bit of time for the actual check to be physically processed through the Federal Reserve system, sent to the issuing bank, found to be fraudulent, returned through the system to your bank, and notification sent to you. This process can easily take two weeks or more.

On 11/4/03, the Internet Fraud Complaint Center posted this warning:
"The scheme targets individuals that use Internet classified ads to sell merchandise. Typically, an interested party located outside the United States contacts a seller. The seller is told that the buyer has an associate in the United States that owes him money. As such, he will have the associate send the seller a cashier's check for the amount owed to the buyer. This amount will be thousands of dollars more than the price of the merchandise, and the seller is told the excess amount will be used to pay the shipping costs associated with getting the merchandise to his location. The seller is instructed to deposit the check, and as soon as it clears, to wire (Western Union) the excess funds back to the buyer, or to another associate identified as a shipping agent. In most instances, the money is sent to locations in West Africa (Nigeria). Because a cashier's check is used, a bank will typically release the funds immediately, or after a one or two day hold. Falsely believing the check has cleared, the seller wires the money as instructed. In some cases, the buyer is able to convince the seller that some circumstance has arisen that necessitates the cancellation of the sale, and is successful in conning the victim into sending the remainder of the money. Shortly thereafter, their bank notifies the victim that the check was fraudulent, and the bank is holding the victim responsible for the full amount of the check."

I have no idea how many people have been taken in by the scam, but it has spread all over the world and has morphed into many variations. For example, here is an e-mail that I received on 6/17/04 from mmerah231@latinmail.com. Note on this one, the sender didn't even bother to fill in my name, the vehicle details or the price. Rather cheeky, I'd say.

GOOD DAY MR AND MRS,

I am VIKRAM MERAH, THE DIRECTOR of VIKRAM MOTORS, Plot 209/210 Ramand Road, South west Vijay Garden, New Delhi India.

We specialise in purchase of auto machines for customers here in Asia, and Europe,and we get paid in commission, after payment has been confirmed by the seller to the buyer. At present we have a customer interested in purchasing your (.......)mentioned above for the sum of ($....)and we will arrange for the pick up of the ITEM once payment is confirmed cleared by you. Please acknowledge the offer and we will inform the buyer of your confirmation of acceptance to sell and have the funds remitted to you as soon as possible.

ATTN; PLS CONFIRM THE VIN NUMBER FOR AUTO CHECK.(PLEASE ATTACH ATLEAST TWO MORE PICS SO THAT WE CAN FORWARD IT TO HIM FOR CONFIRMATION)

I hope you can understand.reply to mmmmerah231@yahoo.com
Management.
 

I finally sold the Chevy truck for next to nothing. Ah, well.
 
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Links to a select few other scam-related web sites. (There are hundreds more!)
*FBI Fraud Schemes Describes many scams including the advance fee (Nigerian 4-1-9) scheme.
*Fraud Victim Assistance Excellent fraud victim advocacy site with many resources.
*Transparency International Comprehensive international coalition against corruption of all types.
*Scam-o-rama Hundreds of scams from start to finish. Also news, commentary, and links.
*Crimes-of-Persuasion This page deals specifically with auto purchasing using forged checks. Read (and weep) about some people who got sucked in. Far-ranging web site.
*Scambuster (UK) "Gilbert Murray" strings the scammers along, getting them involved in the most ridiculous situations and making them do the most ridiculous things. Very funny.
*419 Eater Letters, lots of scams, baiting tips, photos of scammers, audio files, links, FAQs.
*Nigerian 419 Fraud (UK) Fighting back at Nigerian 419 advance fee fraud scammers. Tons of good stuff here.

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