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Spotting scams

One of our key requirements when selling on Trade Me is that the seller must have the goods in their possession prior to

7 January 2021

There are all kinds of scams that can be pulled online such as impersonation, romance scams - today we are focusing on car scammers.

Making the decision to sell your beloved car, bike, boat or digger isn’t always easy.

Regardless of your reason for parting ways, if you choose to find new home for your ‘precious’ but but well loved vehicle via Trade Me Motors there are a few things you should keep in mind when you’re contacted by a potential buyer.

Unfortunately there are ‘freight forwarding scammers’ lurking in our midst who pose as genuine buyers interested in your vehicle.

Their intention is to trick you into transferring them your hard earned dollars to cover the cost of shipping before you’ve officially received money from them.

It might sound ludicrous that people would fall victim but just remember scammers scam for a living so they get very good at finding ways to trick you.

So how does the freight forwarding scam work?

Scammer Txt MessageScammers get their hot little hands on your mobile number (more on this later) and send you a text message asking if your vehicle is still for sale.

They’ll ask you to email them to make arrangements. Here is a real life example →

These text messages often come from a weird number like 8222 or have an overseas country code such as +502 or +44.

Occasionally they’ll use a recognisable New Zealand number.

Once you’ve replied to their text by email they’ll reply back to you and mention at least one of the following:

  • They're currently overseas for work. We’ve heard all the different scenarios under the sun – sometimes they’re a marine biologist, sometimes they work on an oil rig or sometimes they are an officer in the army. If it’s not one of these lines, they’ll provide you with another seemingly legitimate reason why they're overseas and can't do the deal in person.
  • They’re satisfied with the condition of your vehicle and want to quickly proceed with the trade.
  • They want the vehicle to be shipped overseas.
  • They will insist on completing the trade via a method not commonly used in New Zealand e.g. PayPal, MoneyGram or Western Union (Trade Me members never need to use these services).

Here is a real life example email:

Scammer Email Example

Note how the so called ‘Marine Biologist’ has extremely poor grammar!

You'd think someone who has a science degree could write at a higher standard.

That’s a little tell-tale sign of the scam right there.

If they’re paying me, what’s the catch?

Once you’ve agreed to sell them your vehicle and emailed them your PayPal details they’ll generate a bogus PayPal confirmation email that confirms that a deposit has been made into your PayPal account, much like this one:

Fake Paypal

Now the fun begins...

The scammer will ‘pay’ you extra money to cover an additional cost.

In this example they’ve added $2,100 to cover the cost to ship the item to them.

How nice of them!

You’ll be sent an email from the scammer asking you to make payment to their shipping agent (or other such person) usually via Western Union.

What they’re hoping you’ll do is take the above ‘PayPal’ email at face value and make the transfer to their ‘agent’ from your own bank account without logging into your PayPal account to check that you’ve actually received the money.

Once you have sent the money, you’ll NEVER see it again.

How to spot a freight forward scam

The easiest way to suss out a scammer is just poke at their story a little and use your common sense. Keep the following in mind:

  • Trade Me only allow members from New Zealand and Australia to register, so chances are if they’re based in Malaysia, UK etc. and are keen on your vehicle, they’re probably a scammer.
  • Why your vehicle? Don’t they have second hand vehicles in their own country?
  • There is no real reason to use external services like PayPal or Money Gram.
  • Never send money when you’re the one expecting to be paid.
  • If you want members to contact you by phone to discuss the sale, only place your phone number in the ‘about the seller’ section when you set up the listing. That way only members who are logged into the site can see your contact info. Having your contact info in the listing wording invites any Tom, Dick or Harry anywhere in the world to contact you in order to scam you.
  • If in doubt get a second opinion from a friend.
  • If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

The Trade Me Policing team have become quite good at spotting scams so if you’re concerned about anyone who has contacted you don’t hesitate to touch base.

As the old saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Want to know more about protecting yourself online? Try these other posts: