Used car scams moving to popular selling apps

Posted at 6:00 PM, Apr 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-14 18:21:21-04

Ricardo Sebastian still has a bookmark on his phone of the shiny red Toyota pickup he thought he would be driving now.

"This is the truck I was supposed to be getting," he said.

Instead of having a new ride, however, he has lost more than $1,000, hit by the newest car selling scam.

Scammers now target selling apps

Sebastian found the 2002 Tacoma on the LetGo app.
LetGo is one of the newest ways to buy and sell merchandise, along with Facebook Marketplace and Wallapop (which is now affiliated with LetGo in the US.)

They are much more mobile phone-friendly than Craigslist.

"The pickup looked really nice and had a great price on it of $1,500," he said, as it was half the Kelly Blue Book value.

While these new services are more professional looking than Craigslist, hundreds of reports are popping up from scammers using these new buying and selling apps to post non-existent items for sale.

Most correspondence is done by text or Gmail accounts, making it easy for sellers to disguise who they are, which is what happened in Sebastian's case.

"Widow" unloading truck cheap

He says the seller claimed she was a "widow" trying to unload her husband's truck at a bargain price.

"I texted her back, and asked why so cheap? She said her husband had died and she just wanted to get rid of it, because it had a lot of painful memories.  So I said OK," Sebastian said.

The woman told him Amazon would be handling the transaction. "She told me to go buy Amazon gift cards, and I went and bought 3 Amazon cards for $500 each, and sent them to her," Sebastian said.

At that point, she was supposed to arrange for delivery,  But that was the last Sebastian heard from her. Further texts and emails to her number went unanswered, and when we emailed her at the address in the ad, no one responded.

Warning signs of a scam

Here is a great way to know if a car ad you see online might be bogus.

If it's listed at half the price (or less)  of what you'd  pay at a local used car lot, there is a good chance it is a phony ad. 

Lots of photos of the car?  Be careful: it may be copied from a legitimate used car ad, then re-posted at a much lower price.

So don't let  this happen to you.

  • Beware of used cars well below Blue Book value.    
  • Beware of cars that you can't see in person (because a husband just died, or a son was deployed to Afghanistan, etc)
  • Beware of sellers who want a deposit by Western Union or untraceable gift cards. You will never see that money again.

LetGo says it successfully has handled millions of secure transactions, but like other trading sites, it is a frequent target of scammers, and issues a warning for users on its site.

LetGo says "be wary of users who are unable or refuse to meet face-to-face to complete a transaction, those whoask you to mail payment for an item. Don't send payment to someone you haven't met in person, and don't buy something without seeing it first."

Sebastian emailed Amazon for help, but says "they informed me that Amazon doesn't ship cars, and that it was all a scam."

The scam continues

As for the bogus 2002 Toyota Tacoma pickup for $1,500, as of late March, it was still for sale on the LetGo app, in almost a dozen different locations, from a dozen different sellers. When we checked again on April 13th, we instead found a 2004 Toyota Tacoma on sale for about the same price in more than 20 cities, with the same picture used in every ad.

Meantime, the Don't Waste Your Money team cotacted Amazon to see if there is any way to reverse those gift cards, but typically when the money is gone it is gone forever.

The easiest way to protect yourself: never buy a car without seeing it and test driving it first, so you don t waste your money.