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Saddled With An eBay “Buyer Protection” Scam

If someone selling a car online claims it’s protected under the eBay Buyer Protection Program — but it’s NOT being sold through eBay — it is a SCAM. End of story.

This story does have a start, though. It begins with my Facebook follower Sandra R. Wright of Greenville, Mississippi.

“I’m trying to purchase a vehicle that was advertised on Facebook Marketplace,” Wright’s Facebook message said. “The owner wants to go through the eBay Buyer Protection Plan. Now I have to send the owner money.”

You don’t have to do anything, Sandra — because if you do send that money, you’ll neither see the car nor your money ever again.

That seller is using a fake or stolen ad to sell a vehicle he doesn’t own — and he’s added the lure of the legitimate eBay Buyer Protection Program. “Criminals post ads on online auction and sales websites for inexpensive used cars that they don’t really own,” said Colleen Tressler, consumer education specialist for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “They offer to chat online, share photos, and answer questions. They may even tell you the sale will go through (eBay’s) buyer protection program. Recently, sellers have been sending fake invoices that appear to come from eBay Motors and demanding payment in eBay gift cards. If you call the number on the invoice, the scammer pretends to work for eBay Motors. Trusting buyers have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The real eBay Buyer Protection Program insures the online purchase of an eligible vehicle up to $50,000 or the vehicle purchase price, whichever is lower. But it only applies to a vehicle for sale ON eBay, NOT on Facebook Marketplace, CraigsList or any other buy/sell/trade bulletin board site. 

“If a Craigslist or non-eBay seller ‘promises’ you the eBay protection plan, this is false and almost certainly a scam, and you should walk away,” warned eBay on its eBay Motors Security Center page.

The Better Business Bureau refers to this type of online scam as an escrow scam. That’s because the scammer asks the victim to send the money through a third party or gift cards, essentially laundering the money to hide any paper trail. That trail typically leads to — wait for it — Romania.

“Investigations suggest these scams are operated by Romanian organized crime gangs. Criminal authorities in both the U.S. and Europe have arrested dozens of the scammers, responsible for millions of dollars in losses, but this scam continues to operate,” the bureau reported in this September 2020 release.

Bureau investigators said these are the signs of an online auto escrow scam:

  • The price of the vehicle is almost always far below market value.
  • To justify selling the car quickly at a low price, the bogus seller may claim to be deploying overseas, going through a divorce or suffering the loss of a husband or son who owned the car, which brings painful memories.
  • Sellers never meet buyers in person nor allow the buyer to see the actual vehicle. Or they post a picture lifted from a legitimate online used car ad, one that can often be found with just a simple Google Images search.
  • Bogus sellers claim it is safe for interested buyers to send money. They assert that the transaction is protected by eBay Motors or an independent third party shipping company that will hold the funds in escrow until the buyer receives and approves the vehicle. In reality, eBay’s protections only apply to items where the transaction is all on its platform. Crooks will even send fake invoices with eBay’s letterhead or send emails designed to appear as if they originated at eBay.

Back to Sandra Wright. With my fingers furiously pounding my keyboard in fear that she already pulled the trigger on that transaction, I told her what I just told you. As of this writing, she has not replied, so I assume she didn’t buy that car.

After all, there is no car to buy — and eBay’s protection does not apply.

Copyright 2020 Wise Choices TM. All rights reserved.

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