The Car Search, Part 1: In which I Attempt to Buy a Car From a Scammer

Last month I decided to start looking for a new car.

My then-current car, a beat-up ’96 Sunfire nicknamed “The Blue Crush” by one of our friends (but not because of summer vibes, rather, it owed its name to the badly patched body damage along the passenger side) was having transmission issues. About 60% of the time it needed to be started from 3rd gear, and this proved problematic and at times terrifying when in traffic or going up hilly Colorado back-roads with lifted trucks glued to my tail. It was time for an upgrade to something with 4-wheel drive and good clearance that could handle the cratered Colorado Springs city streets.

Buying a car is a usually a simple-enough process: Check out Craiglist and Ebay, send some messages, see the car in person, test drive, and after haggling a bit, purchase the car.

Only this time it wasn’t so straight-forward. In the past 6 months or so it seems all the popular sites and apps including OfferUp, letgo, and Craigslist have been taken over by scammers. The ads, sometimes hundreds of them at a time, offer quality cars for very cheap, but not unrealistic prices. Send an email and eventually you’re asked for Paypal information.

Screenshot 2017-04-29 at 11.41.33 PM
The Craigslist ads in question

Okay, so maybe these scams aren’t issues for you or I. After all, we’re used to this type of Nigerian-prince type ruse. But what about non-native English-speakers? Our apartment complex is mostly J-1 Visa workers, so maybe 20% Jamaicans and 40% Europeans.

These are the people who fall victim to these scams. As my girlfriend said, “We just don’t have things like this happen back home!”

Side-note- Her English is quite good, but occasionally she forgets words and attempts to translate things in hilarious fashion.

Notable among her phrases (I have a notebook full of them):

  • Microphone headIn reference to a man walking ahead of us with an afro.
  • “I dont want to drink dust Milk” in reference to condensed milk
  • Hundred-legs: Centipedes

Anyway, back to the scams. She refused to believe that these cars were anything but good deals, and after I shot down maybe the 15th consecutive car ad she’d sent my way, she became quite frustrated with me.

I decided to show her exactly how these scammers work.

“Fine,” I exasperatedly told her, “I’ll buy the pick-up truck.”

I documented the process via screenshots between Jeff (myself) and the seller, “Samantha Cutler”.

The first question the scammer normally ask is if you will do a site-unseen money transfer instead of cash. Jeff decided to beat them to the punch.

The scammer will then reply with some version of a SOB story involving the death of the owner of the car. Hence, their need to sell the vehicle quickly and for a low price.

Here, Samantha’s son died in a bike accident:

Jeff apologizes and tactlessly asks about the recently deceased son. Samantha won’t let Jeff the car in person, of course, but it was worth a try.

Samantha uses a city across the country and tells Jeff the car is ready to be shipped as soon as she receives Jeff’s personal information.

Jeff attempts to find out what company the car is supposedly stored at. I assumed her response would be to say the car was wrapped and already in a shipping container, thus I would not be able to see it in person.

A bit of googling shows that DAS actually does exist, even if only on paper. I’ll let the reviews speak for themselves.

Jeff responds…

Might as well have a little fun at this point.

Disregard the through/throw mistake. Francis evidently has awful grammar.

And… we’re right back to square one. Anyway, by this point my girlfriend had finally and sadly accepted that this was in fact a scam and we would not be receiving a new truck for $1500.

So there we are.

How to spot these scams in the future?

1. The prices are never even. ie $1523 vs $1500

2. A message stating that they only can talk by email, usually because they “..are at work and cannot text.”

3. A  generic combination of a name and numbers in the email address. ex. “”

4. A lack of photos.

5. Money service

Part 2: I’m trying to get in touch with the higher-ups behind the scam but haven’t made any headway yet.

Well? Something must be on your mind!

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