International Buyer Scams

Recently a car collector ran a classified ad to try to sell an ‘84 Corvette. A man from England responded to the ad via e-mail, saying he was interested in purchasing the car. He wanted to mail the seller a check for more than the asking price, and then have the seller send the balance to a man who would use it to ship the car to him in England .

The seller declined the offer and told the potential buyer that if he wanted to send additional money to someone else for shipping the car, he would have to do that himself. After that, the e-mails stopped.

Later, the seller discovered the man was running a scam. He would send unsuspecting sellers a fraudulent cashier’s check and keep the money sent to his accomplice posing as a transfer agent.

The seller heard that one man was arrested for depositing a fake check that he accepted for his vehicle during such a scheme. He wound up with no car, no cash and a potential jail sentence for bouncing a check.

Scams such as this involving the sale of cars internationally have been happening more as the Internet market for cars expands. Experts estimate that Americans are losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Individuals, car dealers and businesses have all been scammed. Some businesses have had losses so big they had to close.

Several precautions can be taken to avoid problems with fraudulent overseas buyers. Obviously staying away from overseas transactions is the first choice, but you lessen the chance of coming across a good, honest buyer/seller.

If you decide you have to deal with an international buyer, don’t accept a cashier’s check without contacting the issuing bank. The bank should have a toll-free number that you can call to validate the check’s authenticity. Even after you’ve done this, wait for the check to clear before releasing the vehicle. It may take the bank two to three weeks to verify the check isn’t a fake.

When selling a car to a foreign buyer, do not refund an overpayment. No wise person in a foreign country is going to send a check for thousands of dollars to a total stranger without seeing the car that’s for sale. Any serious overseas car buyer will want to make arrangements to have someone inspect your car before they make an offer to buy it.

Don’t give out any personal information. You’re opening yourself up for possible identity theft if you do. Scammers who have your personal information can list your car on an online auction and have any proceeds of its sale sent to their P.O. Box or international address. You’ll be left in the lurch because you’ve been committed to sell your car to the online auction winner – but the scammer has the money that the winning bidder sent!

We hear about scams like these almost every day on the news, yet someone gets suckered in daily. Predators know that people are sometimes desperately in need of money and try to take advantage of this. This brings one more bit of advice to mind: Never put “must sell” or “car has to go” or similar wording in your ad. It’s an invitation for trouble.

Whether you’re buying or selling a collector car, remember this cardinal rule – if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

John “Gunner” Gunnell is the automotive books editor at Krause Publications in Iola, Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.


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