My son was looking for a cheap second-hand recently and found a very tidy, low mileage, one owner, FSH Ford Focus Millennium model advertised on Gumtree.com for £1,000. There were lots of pictures and the car seemed to be ideal.
When he e-mailed the vendor, he received some very helpful and charming answers to his questions from a Dutch pilot currently training in Northern Ireland prior to deployment to Afghanistan.
My son indicated that he was keen to see the car and the seller said he would ask his Commanding Officer for two days leave to bring the car to England.
When they were arranging to meet, the vendor said that he didn’t want to commit himself to the expense of bringing the car across the Irish Sea with no guarantee that my son would turn up at the appointed place. He suggested that, in accordance with Gumtree.com’s recommendation, my son should transfer £1,000 to an escrow company as a guarantee of good faith and that the sum would only be released to the seller once my son was fully satisfied with the purchase. The vendor said that he would pay the escrow agent’s fees and also pay for the car to have an independent inspection prior to purchase.
Fortunately, my son does not have an online account so he asked for my help. I was immediately suspicious as a) the car was too good to be true and b) there was no profit margin for the seller once he had paid ferry fares, escrow charges and engineer’s inspection fees on a £1,000 sale.
When I Googled ‘escrow’ I found eBay’s guide to escrow scams which advised that any escrow company with a hyphen in its name is likely to be a fake (this one was hyphenated) and any site without an https:// prefix was highly suspicious (this was http://). Perhaps the most telling advice was that a purchaser should never use an escrow service suggested by the vendor.
To my son’s amazement, after he had withdrawn his interest in the car, he received a phone call from ‘the Dutchman’ (he was certainly not British) trying to get him to change his mind.
The quality of the correspondence leading up to the request for money was very high and it would have been so easy to have been caught. If you or anyone you know is tempted to enter into a deal like this then please be very careful as the goods probably don’t exist and once you have transferred the money you will never see it again.
Don’t let these b******s get away with it!