Dave had been on the lookout for some time for a newer car to replace his ageing 12-year-old Honda Civic which had seen better days.
He’d set his heart on a low-mileage five-door Honda Jazz, but his search around local used car forecourts hadn’t been at all fruitful, so he turned to the internet to widen his search.
The 54-year-old Portsmouth plumber thought his luck was finally in when he saw an ad on Facebook for a 2013 model with just 27,350 miles on the clock at £5,200.
But after parting with a £2,600 50 per cent deposit, it didn’t take him long to realise he’d fallen for a sophisticated advance payment scam.
Action Fraud, the national cybercrime reporting centre, has been alerted and the police involved.
Dave is not the first reader to contact Streetwise about being taken in by online fraudsters using the internet to conceal their real location and identity.
He soon learned that the company he believed he was buying the car from was fake.
The phoney firm used a cloned photograph of the Honda Jazz from a real seller’s website, claiming they specialised in competitively-priced repossessed cars which they stored at a Liverpool depot.
The crooked cyber company’s contact details turned out to be false, and none of their trading addresses existed.
His contact with the fraudster was entirely by email. Phone calls were never answered. The Facebook page and email address have since been shut down.
Dave said: ‘People really need to be warned about these scams. I’ve been made to look a right idiot.
‘I thought I did all the necessary checking before I sent the money. I got on to HPI to confirm the mileage and find out if the car had been stolen or if there was any finance outstanding, but it all came back clear.
‘My bank, Barclays, confirmed the account details I’d been given were legit, and everything seemed to be OK and in order.
‘After I transferred the money I received an email a day or two later to say the payment had gone through and delivery had been arranged.
‘They told me the car would arrive at approximately 4pm the following day. I had seven days to have the car checked out and if I wasn’t happy I could return it for a refund.
‘When the delivery trailer didn’t turn up the penny dropped.
‘I finally realised I’d been scammed, big time. I phoned their number but naturally it was fake and the call wasn’t answered.
‘I got on to the bank’s fraud department who confirmed the money had already been withdrawn. They couldn’t do a chargeback claim because I’d paid by online transfer.
‘Looking back,’ he added, ‘I know I should have checked out the depot’s address which turned out to be non-existent.’
Buying a car is probably the most expensive purchase after a home, and online scams are rocketing as the criminal fraternity hide behind internet anonymity to exploit unwary buyers.
Action Fraud is the UK’s fraud and cybercrime reporting centre. It partners the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and Crimestoppers.
A spokesperson told Streetwise that they estimate online car scams costs consumers around £3m a year.
A spokesperson said: ‘Online can be a convenient way of buying a car, but one of the oldest tricks in the scam artist’s repertoire is selling an unsuspecting buyer something that doesn’t exist.
‘Fraudsters typically advertise vehicles for sale from fake sellers or companies. There’s nothing real about them. They’ve no car to sell, the addresses don’t exist. The criminals may not even be in the UK.
‘People are taken in on the promise of a bargain, and persuaded to part with large sums of money without even seeing what they’re buying.’
An angry Dave admitted with the benefit of hindsight how easily he’d been swindled. He says he got carried away and let his guard slip.
‘I just can’t believe how stupid I was, he said. ‘After talking it through with Citizens’ Advice and Streetwise I realise I just wasn’t wary enough and my pre-purchase research was far too half-hearted.
‘I should have spent far more time enquiring whether the firm actually existed. By going public I just hope people can draw some benefit from my experience.’
Streetwise is clear there are many genuine individuals and firms offering cars for sale over the internet.
But cyberspace is full of fraudsters who target unwary car buyers with sophisticated scams to con them out of thousands of pounds.
Streetwise offers the following prevention tips for anyone planning to buy a car online:
n Never arrange to buy a car from an online seller or put down a deposit without being given the opportunity to go and see it.
n If you find a car you’d like to buy, use the internet to thoroughly research the car’s history and the buyer’s home address. Make full use of the electoral roll, or people information sources like 192.com.
n Resist completing the transaction over the internet or by email. Always go to the seller’s home or business premises – otherwise it could be difficult to track them down if there’s a problem.
n Never be persuaded to pay by bank transfer or a banker’s order. If things go wrong the money can’t be traced or recovered once it leaves a fraudster’s bank.
n For added protection always pay by credit card. You can claim the money back from the card issuer if you can prove you’ve been defrauded.
n Print out and retain any advert or description of the car. It’ll be helpful if you have to provide evidence to Action Fraud or the police.