I'll start from the beginning.
Richard sent me a link to a Dodge Caravan being sold through Craig's list. The van was priced well below any other Caravan listed of the same year. The listing had pictures of the van, all nice and clean inside and out. Since we are down to one car (Chelsea is using the van because her car is out of commission for good) I answered the ad to a Mark@usarmydt.com. Hmmm...looks like he's in the army. I didn't get a reply by late the next day so I emailed 'Mark' again.
I sent you one previous email asking how many miles are on the 2003 Caravan but you haven't responded yet. Also, are you the original owner? Are you the owner at all? What city do you live in? How available would you be for my husband and me to come out and look at it?
This was his reply:
The car is located in West Ann Arbor, MI and it is in perfect condition, with no need for additional repairs, no scratches, dings, special marks whatsoever. It has 40K miles and the VIN # is : 2C8GP64LX3R215895 . It has a clear title ready to be signed and notarized on your name. You can see more pictures by click on the link below :
This car needs nothing, the title is clear, it is not a salvage one. I want this transaction to go smoothly enough as I am caught in the middle of some very important events and have little time at my disposal. I already have tons of emails so I hope you understand that I need to sort them out.
The price is $2,900 THIS IS MY LAST PRICE. I will not negotiate the price. I will take in consideration only those buyers who are really interested in buying the car, to be sure that I don't waste my time with endless discussions. This way, I shall be assured of the serious intentions.
So if you are interested please email me back so we can move forward,
There were a few words and phrases in here that raised some red flags right away. First of all, he never answers my question as to whether or not he is the owner.
"..it is not a salvage one." This is not normal American speech. He sounds foreign. Alert number two.
"I want this transaction to go smoothly enough..." again, normal speech would leave out the 'enough.' He sounds foreign again. Alert number three.
The whole tone of the email takes on a typical Nigerian scam. "I will take in consideration only those buyers who are really interested in buying the car..." "...this way I will be assured of the serious intentions."
But, I tell Richard I am going to email him again. Deep down, I want to bait him to see what is next because I smell something fishy.
I would want my car guys to check this van out before I purchase it. So, if you are willing to let me do that we can move forward. It sounds like you are not the owner, is that correct? Is your name on the title?
To which he replies:
Hello again Karen,
The transaction will be closed only through Buyer Protector and this way we will both be protected. I work in the army and my current job doesn't allow me to do otherwise. I have way to little free time to handle home visits and my phone calls are very limited. As I said before the car is as described and you will be able to inspect the car before a final decision.
I had prearranged shipping with Buyer Protector and DAS so my presence isn't necessary. The car is in a Buyer Protector warehouse, ready for delivery.
To begin the transaction I'll need your full name and shipping address, I will forward the details of our transaction to Buyer Protector and then you will receive an invoice from them. The car will be shipped insured to your location with DAS and you will have 5 days for inspection. I have already payed the shipping fees so there is no shipping cost for you.
Ahh-Hahh! I found the scam! I emailed this comment to Richard as I forwarded 'Mark's' email. The all-knowing Richard checked out this 'Buyer Protector' and found that sure enough there was a website that looked legit. But upon further digging, he found out that the site had just got up and running on January 26, 2008 and is registered to an unknown in the Netherlands. And if you go to the Buyer Protection site here you will notice that it is very similar to another legitimate company, Buyer Guardian. They even stole the logo! Check out Buyer Guardian here. (But wasn't it nice of him to pick up the shipping cost? He's such a considerate guy, eh?)
Then Richard went on Craig's list and did a search on this Mark guy's email address and found the same exact Caravan posted in a bunch of other cities. Some of them had been flagged and taken down already.
If you haven't figured it out yet, the scam works like this. The seller is claiming that he is in the Army (trying to play on our bleeding hearts for the soldiers, no doubt) and cannot do this transaction in person. He claims that he is hiring a legitimate escrow company to be the 'middle-man' in the transaction. If we want the car, we send the escrow company our money and they send us the car. Well, can you see it now? We send the money, get no car and are SOL.
I told Richard that I wanted to bait him more and he agreed because he wanted to blog about it. This was my next correspondence to 'Mark.'
OK Mark: I checked out Buyer Protector on line. I think I understand.
Here is my address:
151 Martin St, Birmingham, MI 48009
Please let me know what are the next steps.
These were actually Richard's words and Richard's idea to use the Birmingham police department's address. He's good! Here is the next response and it's a doozie!:
Hello again Karen,
I forwarded the details about our transaction to Buyer Protector. I hope that everything works out fine and we are done in this week. Please let me know when will you be able to make the deposit, so I know when to prepare the shipping.
Also I would personally advise you that when you will go to the Money Gram office to send the money, don't tell the Money Gram agent that you are sending the money for an internet transaction, tell him that you sending the money for a friend of yours that you know because they will charge you additional fees if you tell them that you will send the money for an internet transaction.
I'll look forward to close this deal with you successfully and in the best manner.
Don't you just love it!! "...don't tell the Money Gram agent that you are sending the money for an internet transaction...because they will charge you additional fees..." That one had us laughing out loud! And he also writes words in the wrong order...no, you're not foreign, Mark!
I thought you told me in the last email that I could check out the car. If you give me the address where it is being stored, I could go there.
To which he replied (this is good!):
Hello again Karen,
As I've told you before my current job does not allow me to show you the car because right now I'm a specialist in the Army @ the 10TH Mountain Division in Buffalo, NY 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry and I can't get a permission to leave just to come and show you the car. I will take the permission only if I know I have a sure client.
If you don't feel safe with this transaction I can understand you also and I will sell the car to somebody else. I will wait for your final decision.
Well, by this time Richard had posted this whole scheme on his blog and the cats were done playing with the mouse. I was ready to let him know I was on to his shenanigans. This was my last email to which I have not had a reply.
Mark, Mark, Mark! You are too funny, Mark, or whatever your real name is!
"Also I would personally advise you that when you will go to the Money Gram office to send the money, don't tell the Money Gram agent that you are sending the money for an internet transaction, tell him that you sending the money for a friend of yours that you know because they will charge you additional fees if you tell them that you will send the money for an internet transaction."
A Money Gram office?? We don't have those over here in the States. Additional fees for an Internet transaction?? No bank could get away with that here in the States.
Funny that this EXACT vehicle was posted in multiple cities on Craig's List and taken down on many of them.
I have contacted Craig's List to hopefully shut you down completely. There will be a bit of press on this. Google map the address I gave you. It's a police station.
I could tell from your first email that you are not American. Using words like 'on' when you should say 'in' and small stuff like that. I was surprised that you weren't Nigerian. Or maybe you are, operating through the Netherlands. I just wish I could have strung you on and screwed you over before you had a chance to know what was happening, like the guy that went through the tattoo ritual thinking he was going to get money in the end. I will just do what I can and alert as many people as possible and contact whatever authorities I can.
You went through a lot of hassle, setting up a fake 'Buyer Protector' website, setting up a site that clicks through to the US Army website. With all that skill you should think about working on the 'good' side. You would feel much better about yourself. And you can make 'honest' money.
So, to bid you adieu, I hope you get what you deserve and even worse. I just hope no one fell for this vile scam.
Oh, and check this out: you're in someone's blog!!
Check out Richards blog at the above link. Also check out the comments that he got. It's a riot!
So the moral of the story is: if the price looks too good, it is. And NEVER send money. NEVER.
Au revoir, amies!