Why so many online camper and boat sales are scams

With school out for summer, this is the time of year many families go shopping for a boat, a camper or a truck to pull them.

But one man has a warning about the scammers who may target you as you start planning your family adventure.

Rick Rieman is an outdoorsy guy who decided to buy his family a camper this summer.

"I just got the bug," he said.

He also wanted a used pickup truck to haul the camper.

"So we started searching online on Craigslist for locally owned pickup trucks big enough to haul an RV," he said.

Why Craigslist is so popular

If you're in the market for a boat, a camper or a truck, the easiest thing to do is go to a local dealer.

The problem is that prices are high mid-summer, which is why Craigslist and other sites are so appealing.

Owners who need a fast sale for financial reasons often list their camper or boat at fire-sale prices. But scammers know that, and prey on our desire for a deal.

So Rieman started contacting sellers on Craigslist offering campers and pickups.

"I found one for just $2,500," he said. "For a pristine camper."

But he quickly noticed a disturbing trend: the owner of that camper and several other bargain models were out of town, and couldn't show him the item for sale.

The seller, saying he was in the military, sent him an email saying "for the next 7 days, I will be stationed at the Bismark, North Dakota Air Force base, making final preparations for deployment."

The seller wanted him to wire money to hold the camper.

But Rieman soon got more suspicious. In other cases, he says, the bargain camper ad was posted by a widow, who needed a fast sale because her husband recently passed away.

"I was finding that either they have been deployed, or will be deployed, or they lost a spouse, and the memories are too bad. They need to get rid of it fast," Rieman said.

The Better Business Bureau says this is the classic phony ad scam. Scammers copy legitimate ads, and repost at much lower prices.    

In the summer, they target travelers looking to buy campers and boats, the BBB says. In the spring, they typically target used-car buyers.

Warning signs of a scam

The Better Business Bureau warns to shoppers to watch for these red flags:

  • The price is unusually low for what you are looking at.
  • The seller is stationed out of town, is in the military, or is a missionary outside the U.S.
  • The seller recently lost her husband.
  • In every case, you can't see the item in person.

They will always ask for a deposit, or even full payment, and will promise to ship it.

Others report finding these scams popping up on Facebook Marketplace, and new smartphone buying selling apps like Offer Up.

Rieman says in that case, run, don't walk, before your summer camping dreams are ruined by a scam.

If you can't see it in person, never send cash so you don't waste your money.

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