When you start to think something is too good to be true, then it probably is. I know this is somewhat of a cliché but it is when you drop your guard for just a moment when scam artists attack. This is my experience of a Classifieds scam.
Last month I wanted to sell my ever so reliable Toyota Corolla so I put it up on Carsales, Carsguide and Gumtree.
Within the first two hours I had an enquiry from a Michael Seay who was “OK with the price and the condition.” I believe this enquiry came through Gumtree. He couldn’t call me or come and inspect the car because he works on a rig as a “mechanical engineer.” Michael was buying this car for his vacation and had already contacted his courier who was going to deliver it to his place in Darwin.
Click on the email image to enlarge it
At this time I was unaware of the scam and thought he was a genuine buyer. The only thing was I thought it was a little weird he wanted to freight the $3000 Corolla from Sydney to Darwin, a 3929 kilometre drive!
Within 30 minutes I sent him an invoice through my PayPal account and asked for his:
- Full name
- Date of Birth
- Licence number
- A copy of his licence
Michael replied within 30 minutes asking me to remove the listing and note it down as sold. His pick up agent was going to sign the transfer papers on his behalf.
14 and a half hours later Michael tells me he needs to pay his pick up agent before they can schedule a pick up time. They were charging him $950 to deliver the car to Darwin and this payment had to be made to their “corporate international headquarters” which is located in China. Of course because Michael is at sea he didn’t bring his credit card aboard so he wanted me to transfer the $950 for the courier via Western Union money transfer to an account in China. He assured me he would add the $950 to the $3000 he is already paying for the car.
At this moment I was a little annoyed that I had to sort out the bill for the courier but I was still somewhat delusional that I had sold the car so quickly. I forwarded this email onto my father, being a former employee of Western Union he is a little more receptive to scams, he told me to cancel the invoice straight away because I was dealing with a scam artist.
This was the first time I had even considered this to be a scam but I was still giving Michael the benefit of the doubt.
3 hours later Michael tells me he has completed the payment of $4050 (the extra $100 is to cover the Western Union fee). He told me PayPal won’t release the $4050 until I email them the Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN), sender name and address. He also gave me the agent’s details to send the $950 to:
Name: Zhangyun Ni
Address: 12 ding fu jia yuan
Zip Code: 100024
This is when I thought it was a bit strange for PayPal to not release the $4050 until I’ve transfered $950 to another third party. I was not about to transfer even a cent of my own money until I received the money from Michael. What was even more suspicious was that my PayPal account said I had not received any money, contrary to what Michael was telling me. I asked Michael again for his details for the registration papers, he replied with:
35 Creswell St
North Territory, Australia 0810
Licence number: 115783
DOB: 06 July 1975
I then checked my junk mail folder and found a few questionable emails from ‘PayPal’. While the initial name said it was from firstname.lastname@example.org the email address under that name was email@example.com. This email told me to do what Michael had already told me, transfer the $950 to China then I’ll get my $4050. It told me this transaction was done via their e-mail payments service and that any inquiries and necessary information should be sent to us by directly replying to this message.
It took me up until now to release this was a scam after I googled Michael Seay and found a number of scam alerts. I knew PayPal never had an “e-mail payments service” and thought it was weird that this transaction wasn’t going through PayPal instead it was going through e-mails. It was a classic phishing email. I immediately cancelled the invoice to this so called ‘Michael’ and stopped my correspondence with him.
That’s when a chain of emails came in from both ‘Michael’ and ‘PayPal’ demanding I transfer $950 to his “pick up agent” in China.
Michael was getting worried because his “account had been debited” and he had not heard back from me.
PayPal was telling me to give them the MTCN control number, proof that I transferred the $950, then $4050 will be credited into my account.
The next day I received another email from PayPal ordering me to transfer the $950 to the “pick up agent” in China within 24 hours otherwise legal action may be taken against me.
While this was going on I was also receiving other similar enquiries from:
Can you see a common theme with these enquires? All but one wanted it delivered to the Northern Territory, the least populated state/territory in Australia, they all couldn’t phone me and they all didn’t have their credit card details on them.
Looking back on the emails I noticed terrible grammar and simple spelling mistakes, even on the phishing PayPal email.
This is a common scam where the scam artist sends the seller fake PayPal emails (phishing emails) urging them to transfer a third party in a foreign country a nominated fee. It is an advance payment scam. The scam artist then receives that money, in my case $950, and I never hear from them again. They are $950 richer. They only need to sting a couple of people with this scam every week to do well.
That is why I am writing this and posting it on the internet, to educate people of this scam. The more people aware of this means less people will fall for this trap. I forwarded the phishing PayPal emails to the REAL PayPal. I also informed the The Australian Competition and Consumer Commision’s ScamWatch about this scam, although it is a very common scam that has been around for at least five years now. The reality of it is that these organisations receives hundreds if not thousands of these reports every week so to investigate everyone of these instances would utilise too many of their resources.
The real responsibility lies with the public. We have to be aware of these scam artists that rob Australians of millions of dollars a year. The ACCC reports that in “2011 losses arising from scam activity totalled almost $85.7 million, a 35 per cent increase on the amount reported in 2010 ($63.5m) – and this is only reported losses. The total could be much higher.” (AIC) The National Consumer Fraud Week is from the 17-23 of June. The ACCC wants Australians to “outsmart the scammers.” The Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce (ACFT) are constantly gathering information of scams to improve the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of scam offenders. We have to be alert to these foreign scam artists and have the mindset of not being so trustworthy when buying or selling on the internet.
As my Papa always tells me “In God we trust, everyone else pays cash.”