Online Used Car Scammers Tout Military Angle

By Matthew Hines  |  Posted 2009-03-05 Print this article Print

Hey there soldier, how about a great deal on this cherry '83 El Camino?

Anyone who has attempted to buy or sell a car over the Web with any frequency over the last few years has likely already come across some variation on the old Nigerian scam model that targets the online automotive resale market in a seemingly ubiquitous manner.

Instead of identifying you as the perfect individual to help them transfer some windfall of money acquired overseas in exchange for a hefty retainer fee, these campaigns involve people or automated programs that instead actually propose to buy your vehicle. Only after winning an online auction they then send you a cashier's check for well above your car's sale price and merely ask that you wire them back the change.

Then when the check bounces, you're still stuck with your rusty '69 Mercury Montego, and a negative balance in your checking account.

It's a pretty lame approach, as made obvious by the fact that many eBay Motors ads now highlight the scams and warn away unverified bidders, or block overseas purchasers from participating in their sales altogether. Yet, apparently it's still prevalent, just like its bank deposit scheme ancestors. Someone must be falling for it.

However, in more recent days, a far less obvious online car-buying scam has emerged, this time using mocked-up "vehicle transaction protection programs" as the angle on ripping off unsuspecting consumers. After advertising some vehicle at an attractive price, the scammers ask that any buyers pay a phony third party service provider to serve as a proxy until the car and payment trade hands. The idea is added buyer's security.

Of course, once someone sends their money along to the transaction facilitator, they never get shipped their new machine.

In an even newer, and decidedly unpatriotic version of the schemes, the FBI warned this week, scammers are posing as members of the United States military looking to sell off vehicles quickly before being deployed overseas. The actual rip off scam remains the same in terms of its execution as the rest of the payment protection campaigns.

"Beware of these cyber used vehicle salesmen posing as members of the U.S. military. Scammers are always trying new things and, as always, if any deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is," Richard Kolko, a representative of the FBI's National Press Office, said in an advisory.

For the FBI to be touting the scams, one has to assume that they are being distributed in high volumes at present, and that a fair number of people must have already been duped.

So whether you think that you're doing a good turn, or merely getting a smoking deal by taking that perfect '72 AMC Matador off that nice young Marine about to ship out to Afghanistan, check twice before sending your money.

And if anyone's looking for a mint '03 Pontiac Aztec... well, then you probably deserve to get ripped off anyways.

Matt Hines has been following the IT industry for over a decade as a reporter and blogger, and has been specifically focused on the security space since 2003, including a previous stint writing for eWeek and contributing to the Security Watch blog. Hines is currently employed as marketing communications manager at Core Security Technologies, a Boston-based maker of security testing software. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Core Security, and neither the company, nor its products and services will be actively discussed in the blog. Please send news, research or tips to |

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