Experienced consumer lawyer Steve Lehto wrote about the case on Jalopnik’s blog about car-buying, aiming to save the people of the Internet from similar automotive heartbreak. “I have some very specific advice on how to make sure the story above never happens to you,” he advised the site’s readers. “DON’T DO ANY OF THIS.”
Let’s break down the details of what happened, according to the Detroit Free Press:
1. The buyer saw a car advertised on Craigslist that was purportedly in Montana. He corresponded with the seller and agreed to buy the vehicle for $2,500 plus $1,500 in shipping and insurance costs. While you can safely buy a used vehicle without seeing it in person first, you should know what you’re doing first, and very carefully vet the seller. Talking to them on the phone and seeing that their “dealership” has a web site do not count. Remember, however, that Craigslist warns users specifically not to do this.
2. He visited several local stores, purchasing enough Amazon gift cards to cover the transaction. We’re not sure how well the DMV would react to a stack of empty Amazon gift cards as the sales documentation, but it probably wouldn’t go over well.
3. He transferred the gift card numbers to the seller using a URL that the seller sent, a site that purported to be Amazon. It’s not clear exactly what this site was, but this step was helpful from the scammer’s point of view, since it meant that the seller could drain the physical gift cards in a way that meant the buyer couldn’t reverse the transaction when he realized that it was a scam. Had he bought a gift card directly from Amazon and sent it by e-mail, that wouldn’t be the case.
4. The seller took down the ad and decided not to go through with the sale. That’s when the buyer realized that he wasn’t getting his money back, and went to police…who were unable to help him due to the unorthodox method of payment.
We agree with Steve Lehto’s advice: unless you’re an experienced buyer of used automobiles, do not do any of these things.
How To Avoid Craigslist’s Rampant ‘Sight Unseen’ Purchase Scams [Jalopnik]
Livonia resident out $4,000 from Craigslist scam [Detroit Free Press]