Today we introduce the Bargain Hunter scam. This scam relies mostly on victims thinking that they are getting an incredible deal for something that they found online, usually on a fairly popular site. Sometimes these scams are so well executed that one can easily be swayed away from the old saying that “if it’s too good to be true then it’s too good to be true“.
Unlike the Mystery Shopper / Work From Home scams, where fraudsters are spamming en masse in the hope of stumbling upon some poor soul eager to make a quick buck, the Bargain Hunter scammer carefully sets his trap and then patiently waits for the victim to come to him (under the pretense that there’s a good deal to be had on both sides). In my opinion, Bargain Hunter scamming is the next step up from Mystery Shopper scammers. The latter being the absolute bottom of the barrel.
Much like the previous scams we have discussed, the Bargain Hunter scam is a four pronged attack:
- Scammer Sets the Trap: the scammer sets up a post/ad on a popular online trading platform. The item for sale simply does not exist or is not his/hers to sell. Regardless, the post is setup in a way that makes it look like the buyer is going to get a good deal. A great example of this (as we will see further below) is when the scammer sells a car for far below its market value
- Victim Takes the Bait: a victim is lured into the spider’s web when he first follows up on an ad. The interesting thing about the Bargain Hunter scam is that the scammers usually do not appear too eager to sell. They act as though they are about to give someone a really good deal, so it’s not within their interest to appear desperate. I believe the scammers behave this way because at the end of the day they make so much money from these types of scams that they can really take their time and be careful with whom they interact. They know that investigators are out there trying to get to the bottom of things, so they do what they can to avoid being busted
- Scammer Gains Victim’s Trust: in this scam trust comes in a number of flavors. From my experience the scammer will always offer more information on the item that is being sold. This is information that was not made available in the original ad. So in the case of cars they will offer more pictures, sometimes even offering to send printouts of Carfax reports as well. The coup de grâce is when the scammer introduces a third party, most likely this is one which has already earned the trust of the victim. This third party is an essential component to the scam because it will facilitate the fourth and final phase
- Victim Sends Money: the victim thinks that his or her money is being sent to a trusted third party when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. What’s really happening is that the victim is sending money to yet another victim (typically referred to as a money mule) who a) has no idea that it’s all fraud and b) has clear instructions to forward the money on to someone else
Let’s take a closer look at this scam in the wild.
1. Scammer Sets the Trap
This Cars.com classified ad offers a 2002 Toyota Prius at a very good price.
* 3/12/2013 update – this particular scammer has multiple ads on cars.com, here is another *
* 3/18/2013 update - and another *
* 4/4/2013 update - and another, scammer is now using Tina Williams (email@example.com) *
* 4/8/2013 update – and another using Boyce Joly (firstname.lastname@example.org) *
2. Victim Takes the Bait
So far this just looks like a good deal, nothing else to write home about. However, the deal sweetens upon contacting the seller, for she promises to deliver the car from Oregon to Los Angeles as part of the sale price.
From: Debra J Thorn <email@example.com> Subject: Re: Cars.com used car lead for Fenem P. - 2002 Toyota Prius Hi, I still have my 2002 Toyota Prius Hybrid Gas/Electric. I will take only $3600 total price shipping included from Medford OR,i have my own trailer to have the car delivered to you.It has a clear title ready to be signed and notarized on your name.I can offer you 7 days inspection. Runs great,never been wrecked,no accidents,garage kept only.Used 160k miles,VIN# JT2BK12U620039213 More pics attached here: http://s1281.beta.photobucket.com/user/prislady/library/ Thanks
Now that’s what I call a great deal, too good to be true for sure! Note the addition of pictures that were not available in the original ad.
I asked Debra to confirm that there were no shipping charges, I then asked about payment. Enter phase three of the scam.
3. Scammer Gains Victim’s Trust
From: Debra J Thorn <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: Cars.com used car lead for Fenem P. - 2002 Toyota Prius All that you have to pay in the end is $3600. I have a contract with Amazon Payments so we can go through their Protection Program and you can pay with your credit card online or with cash. According with the Amazon you have 7 days after you receive the car to inspect it and decide if you want to BUY IT or NOT. Here is how it will work: 1.First of all I will need the following details from you: - Full Name - Full Address 2. After I will receive the details from you, I will forward them to Amazon. 3. After they will process your info, they will send us both invoices. You will receive the invoice with the details on how to make a refundable payment to Amazon.They will hold your payment while you test and inspect the vehicle at your home for a week. 4. Amazon will contact me to ship the car to you. After you receive the car you will have 7 days to test, verify and do whatever you need to the car. If you will decide to buy the car, then I will get the money from Amazon. 5. If you will decide that you do not buy the car, Amazon will refund your payment same day. I look forward to hearing from you . Thank you
Obviously, the scammer is using Amazon’s brand as a way to earn your trust. You already trust Amazon, and Amazon supposedly has a contract with this bozo, so you can deal with this bozo. Right?
Wouldn’t it be nice if Amazon did provide escrow services of this nature. Looking at Amazon Payment’s Terms and Conditions, they clearly do not:
11.6 No Agency.Nothing in this Agreement is intended to or creates any type of joint venture, employee-employer, creditor-debtor, escrow, partnership, or any fiduciary relationship between you, us or our Affiliates. Further, except as expressly provided for the limited purpose of processing payments in accordance with the Specific Terms for Business Accounts and Seller Accounts: (a) neither party shall be deemed to be an agent or representative of the other by virtue of this Agreement, (b) neither party is authorized to, or will attempt to, create or assume any obligation or liability, express or implied, in the name of or otherwise on behalf of the other party, and (c) without limiting the generality of the foregoing, neither party will enter into any contract, agreement, or other commitment, make any warranty or guaranty, or incur any obligation or liability in the name or otherwise on behalf of the other party.
Of course, we don’t stop our investigation here. I sent the scammer my details. A few hours later I received an email from someone at amazonfps.com, claiming to be Amazon Payments:
The reply-to field of this email was set to “Amazon FPS <email@example.com>”. Shortly after receiving the T&C’s I received an invoice from the same group:
Note that they are asking me to wire money to an individual (Joy Rosado) that is supposedly an Amazon FPS Verified Agent. This is absolute rubbish. Joy Rosado is not a verified agent just because they told me so in an email. He is most likely another victim in this scam.
4. Victim Sends Money
Needless to say, I did not send any money the scammer’s way. Of interest is that Debra sent me an email reminding me to check my Junk Mail folder, just in case I did not get the Amazon invoice. I wrote back and confirmed that it was there and that I would send the money chop-chop.
For me, the following reply shows just how greedy these buggers really are:
From: Debra J Thorn <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: Cars.com used car lead for Fenem P. - 2002 Toyota Prius Oh Okay.Please let me know when you will be able to send the deposit to Amazon so i can prepare the car for the shipping. Oh..and i want to ask you for a favour,when you go to complete the transaction please inform the Western Union agent that you are sending the money to a relative or a friend(if they ask) because in the end they will charge me 10% for doing commerce and since i handle the shipping it will be a nice thing for you to do, it will help me a lot. Regards
How to score this scammer?
I give this scammer a 4/10
- 1 point for a classic Bargain Hunter scam
- 1 point for providing a VIN and additional pictures
- 1 point for not taking the bait in my previous attempts to make contact. In an earler exchange Debra even said I could fly down to take a look at the car!
- 1 point for involving Amazon Payments. Amazon has a great brand, so it just makes sense to include someone that has already earned my trust
As always, lots of room for improvement. I believe this scammer should have put in a little extra effort by attempting to verify my details with a quick phone call. It adds cost to the investigation and so mitigates his risk of being busted. Well that and the human touch when my money is being stolen always does it for me.
* 4/11/2013 update *
The 1991 Toyota MR2 post on cars.com that was highlighted on 4/8/2013 is still going strong. It’s just a matter of time until this guy catches yet another victim.
Since then I have upgraded this scammer to a 5.5/10:
- 1 point for implementing phone verification. If you receive a call from 229-299-5936 then put your guard up. On a side note, I thought his call to me was quite funny. The email he was using to chat to me was supposedly from a woman, but the verification call I received was from a man with a thick eastern European accent. I asked what happened to the jovial American woman that I was dealing with. He told me it was his mother. When I asked where she was he replied that she was unavailable because of an emergency tracheotomy operation that she underwent a few hours ago. Chortle.
- 1/2 a point for including eBay into the brands that he mimics. Upon verification by phone, he arranged for separate emails from email@example.com to come through to me. I was supposed to send money via MoneyGram and then follow up by faxing a copy of the receipt to 408 641 4641 (or calling 316 252 1332)