As a society, we are moving to the on-line community to meet our daily needs, including news, shopping, meeting new people and finding a job. A popular Internet site for fulfilling some of these needs is Craigslist, which provides local classifieds for jobs, housing, goods and services. Unfortunately, while this popular site has some great deals for the savvy shopper, it is also replete with people who are ready to take advantage of the unwary. A typical scam involves a seller, with a desperate situation like a divorce or family death, which leads to the need to quickly unload a vehicle. In one case, the seller professed to be going through a nasty divorce and needed to move to another state and unload her 2004 Jeep Liberty, fully loaded, in excellent condition with only 45,000 miles – for $5,000.00 (Kelly Blue Book private party value is minimum $9,800.00). In this case, the seller claimed to live in Las Vegas and said that she would pay to ship the vehicle once the buyer sent the money via a wire transfer. Unfortunately, my client sent the money, and of course, did not get the Jeep Liberty. Once you fall victim to this scam and send the money, there is no meaningful legal recourse available to you. The true identity of the seller is typically unknown. And, although you can file a police report, you will likely not get any results because the seller and/or whoever received the money are within a different law enforcement jurisdiction. To avoid falling victim to this type of scam, if you choose to make an on-line purchase of a vehicle, or any other big ticket item, follow these simple common sense rules:
- Insist on a face-to-face meeting and inspection of the vehicle – either personally or through a mechanic that you hire in the seller’s geographic location;
- Ask for the vehicle identification number (VIN);
- Insist on the seller providing his/her full name, home address and location of the vehicle – then verify that the home address the seller provides is his/her legitimate address; and
- DO NOT send any money via a wire transfer, Western Union, Moneygram or a money escrow service.
If you find yourself the victim of a scam, and have followed the above rules, having the identity of the person/business with which you contracted will at least give you the information necessary to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, your state Attorney General, or the Better Business Bureau.