Fraudsters are flooding online auction sites with thousands of fake listings for camper vans and motorhomes, using the lockdown to trick people into handing over cash for vehicles they have not seen.
An investigator behind an anti-fraud group set up to try to stop the criminal gangs that target vehicle buyers told the Guardian he has never seen so many fraudulent vehicle listings appear on eBay and other sites in such a short space of time.
“Criminals have realised that there is big demand from people stuck at home looking at buying motorhomes to be used when we are allowed out again,” said the investigator, who works under the name Jack Buster.
“I’d implore anyone who has been talking to a supposed seller in recent days to stop, and under no circumstances send them any money.”
Fraudsters use fake listings copied from legitimate adverts to attract buyers, then tell them that they will deliver the vehicle if they put the money into a holding account. Although they say the cash will not be released until the buyer has seen the vehicle and agreed to finalise the purchase, the money is taken straight away and the customer is left with nothing.
The coronavirus pandemic has given fraudsters a new reason to ask for money ahead of delivery, as buyers are not able to get out to inspect vehicles. It has also made camper vans attractive to families who are looking for ways to safely take a summer break.
The Guardian was contacted this week by Simon Barker, who said he had lost £5,000 to “a highly sophisticated fraud”.
He had spotted a motorhome on eBay and had emailed someone called Nathan Edgar Wright, who claimed to be selling the vehicle on behalf of his father in Ireland.
Barker was told that owing to the lockdown the motorhome would be delivered by a transport company. The seller reassured him that if he paid using Paypal’s pay after delivery service, he he would have five days to look over the vehicle before the money was released.
“He then tried and failed to send me a Paypal invoice, at which point I was seemingly contacted by a representative from Paypal via a live chat window. It certainly looked very convincing,” Barker said.
“He gave me a reference and a bank account number to transfer funds to. The seller had even sent me what he said was a scan of his passport photo page as ID. Of course the delivery never happened, and I now realise I have been scammed.
“Further investigation since has revealed that the listing I replied to has appeared on eBay before.”
Buster said that while this fraud was by no means new, thousands of fraudulent listings appeared on eBay last week alone. One fraudulent motorhome listing has been viewed 45,000 times, he said.
“Sadly there has also been a big jump in reports from victims saying they have lost money to the scammers. They are coming into our offices every few hours at the moment,” he said.
“Normally they find a hundred reasons why you can’t come and see the vehicle but they don’t have to right now, for obvious reasons.”
He added: “These are organised criminals doing this on an industrial scale, and they are very good at it. People buying high-end sports cars, saloons, motorhomes and even JCBs have all fallen for these scams that target eBay, Gumtree and AutoTrader. The vehicles are always advertised at attractive prices to lure people into thinking they are getting a bargain.”
Part of the problem may be that legitimate vehicle sites now offer a service where people agree to buy cars online and only pay for them on receipt.
An eBay spokeswoman said the company invested heavily in dedicated fraud prevention teams.
“It is always advisable to make payment once the buyer has viewed the item in person. We recommend treating with caution any request for bank transfers in advance of viewing the vehicle.
“All users are encouraged to use their best judgment, follow the vehicle buying tips outlined in our safety centre and research the item carefully before making any payments. If a buyer is unsure if the vehicle being offered is legitimate, we’d recommend contacting eBay customer service.”
Vehicle scams are just one of a number that have been ramped up by criminals since the start of the lockdown. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre took down more than 2,000 online coronavirus scams last month. The banks and other bodies have warned consumers to be on their guard.
— to www.theguardian.com