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How to spot an online scammer

Published January 17, 2013
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It looked like a great deal: a Toronto Kijiji ad for a “2008 Toyota Prius Premium Package Hatchback” with 130,000 km, located in Halton Hills, and asking $9,999 — $3,000 below similar advertised vehicles.

There was no phone number in the ad, so I emailed (using a separate account I opened for contacting unknown parties) and received the following reply:

“This vehicle has absolutely no mechanical problem, the exterior has no scratches, rust or dents and the interior is like new, no accidents. The price includes shipping and handling. I am selling it because I’ve relocated in Europe and it is too expensive to import it here. It is still in Canada at a warehouse, in Whitehorse, Yukon, ready to be delivered to its buyer with all the documents. Because I am not able to close the deal myself, I want to use a third party to handle the sale. This way, we are both protected. Let me know if you’re interested and if you have questions.”

Although the grammar and spelling is unusually good for scammers (who are often overseas and English isn’t their first language), there’s no mistaking that this is a scam. Let’s go through the list of red flags:

Why mislead Toronto buyers that a car is nearby in Halton Hills when it’s allegedly 5,259 km away? The scammer is likely posting this ad throughout Canada and the bogus Yukon warehouse story conveniently explains why the vehicle isn’t available for viewing. Who buys a car sight-unseen anyway?

“Price includes shipping and handling.” The asking price is already well below market value, yet the seller is willing to lump in a hefty transport fee on top of that?

The seller is no longer in the country — and impossible to reach when a naïve buyer pays but doesn’t receive the vehicle. Notice that the city or country isn’t specified, just that he’s in “Europe.”

A third party has to handle this sale, so “we are both protected.” Sounds reminiscent of another con-artist line: “I won’t cheat you.”

If a seller is overly concerned with winning the buyer’s trust, there’s probably a reason. By using a third party, this scammer is looking out for his own best interest — you not being able to locate or contact him once he gets your money. Additionally, if you pay anyone other than the registered owner for a vehicle, you haven’t legally bought it.

Kijiji warns all users to “meet sellers in person to pay for items.” Never send or wire money.

Basically, if an ad sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Kijiji removed this ad after I forwarded them the fishy response.

Still not convinced? The “Yukon” car in the ad’s photo had Ontario plates. And guess which regional Kijiji site doesn’t have this Whitehorse car posted?

Answer: Whitehorse.

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