Home > News > How One Woman Got Caught Up in a Craigslist Car Scam

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A woman looking to buy a used car went through one heck of a runaround when she found a listing on Craigslist for a 2002 Nissan Altima, priced at $1,890. After sending hundreds of dollars to the seller and dealing with suspicious correspondence, Peaches Rollins called the police, preventing some scammers from swindling her further.

An article in the New Jersey Star-Ledger explained what happened: Rollins saw the car on Craigslist and called the seller to learn more. No one picked up, but then Rollins received a text from someone named Rosemary Hill, and the two started emailing about the car. Hill said she was eager to get rid of the car because of the memories associated with it: It belonged to her son who was killed by a drunken driver, Hill told Rollins.

She said the car was in an eBay Motors container in Missouri, and Rollins went forward with Hill’s instructions, because she felt comfortable doing business with eBay. The seller told Rollins to expect an email from eBay with instructions for proceeding with the sale, and when it came, Rollins did what she was told: put a total of $1,890 onto four MoneyPak cards and email the card numbers to eBay.

MoneyPak is a prepaid debit card. Prepaid cards have become a common scammer payment method because the money loaded on these cards can be used or moved quickly — pretty much as soon as you have the card numbers.

Soon after sending the numbers to what she presumed to be eBay, Rollins received an email from Hill: She needed $1,500 to pay for shipping insurance. Rollins loaded the money on three MoneyPaks, but this time, she hesitated to send the numbers. Hill’s emails continued, asking about the money with a sense of urgency. Rollins called eBay, and she learned no such car existed in the eBay Motors inventory.

Her next step was to contact MoneyPak, which was a smart idea, but scammers again attempted to outsmart her. She called a customer service number she found online, and the representative who answered told her they had received multiple reports of such scams. The rep asked her for the MoneyPak card numbers, put her on hold, and never returned. It turns out MoneyPak doesn’t have a customer service phone line.

“The scammers from eBay know people are going to call MoneyPak so I believe they made a web page where that number pops up and they tell people to give their info,” Rollins told the Star-Ledger. “I think they hacked it. They got my $1,500.”

Because of some issues the scammers seemed to have transferring the money off the MoneyPak cards, Rollins didn’t lose everything. Despite being out several hundred dollars, Rollins is lucky to have recovered some of her funds. In scams involving similar tactics, victims often never see that money again.

Online consumer-to-consumer sales can be a risky venture. Even when everything seems legit — like when you think you’re dealing with a reputable retailer — you can’t be too careful in confirming where you’re sending money. Transactions requesting prepaid debit cards are a sign you should exercise extreme caution before handing over money, and the same goes for wire transfers. Scammers will do anything to earn your confidence, especially tug at your emotional side, so it’s smart to take such sales or requests for money slowly.

If you believe someone is trying to scam you, and especially if the scammer succeeded, report the incident to local law enforcement and consider filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission. Furthermore, if you handed over other financial or sensitive data to scammers, it’s also important to monitor your financial accounts and report the problem to your financial institutions. Keep an eye on your credit reports, which you can get for free annually from the major credit reporting agencies, for unauthorized debts or accounts. If you track your credit scores regularly (which you can do for free on Credit.com), a large, unexpected change can also be a sign that someone is using your information to commit identity fraud.

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Image: IFCAR, via Wikimedia Commons

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