When Tony Cunningham saw an attractive used car offer online he thought his luck had changed.
But little did he realise he was at risk of being taken for a ride by an elaborate scam, which almost left him cheated out of £8,000 by an online car dealership that didn’t exist.
He’d been looking around local Havant dealers for a car to replace his 10-year-old Ford Fiesta, but hadn’t found what he was looking for so decided to go online.
After a bit of judicious surfing, he was attracted to a three-door Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI SE he saw advertised by a Manchester dealer in the online version of a national car magazine.
The one-owner 2015-registered hatchback with just 39,410 miles on the clock appeared to be a snip at £7,900 so he clicked on a page link to the dealership to find out more.
He was directed to an email address, and within an hour of showing an interest in the car he was rung up by a ‘representative’ to fill him in on the deal.
Tony, 68, said: ‘I went through all the finer points about the car so that I could check its service history and background.
‘I asked for photographs, the registration and identification numbers, and confirmation there wasn’t any outstanding finance on it.
‘A salesman, who said his name was Paul Andrews, sent me pictures and details of the car. He confirmed that to reserve it I’d have to put down a 50 per cent deposit straight away by bank transfer.
‘Cautious by nature, I made it clear I’d need a minimum of 24 hours to run my own background checks before I’d consider buying it.
‘I first checked the dealership out with Companies House, and it all seemed to be in order. Later I ran a HPI check, which came back completely clear.
‘I even got onto my bank, Natwest, just to satisfy myself that the bank details he’d given me for payment weren’t dodgy but genuine.
‘When I emailed my decision to buy the car the salesman said the finance department insisted on payment by credit card or a BACS bank transfer.
‘I told him a credit card transfer was out of the question because it would exceed my limit, so he finally agreed payment by debit card. It would take two days to transfer the money from my savings account to complete the payment which fitted in nicely with the agreed delivery of the car by transporter two days later.
‘A confirmation email followed to say the delivery driver would be in touch when he was close by which would be sometime late afternoon.
‘On arrival a guarantee of a full refund would kick in. I could arrange to return it for free within five days if an inspection revealed major defects costing more than £250 to repair.’
Despite being initially happy with the purchase, Tony instinctively began to have a nagging feeling something wasn’t quite right. It was confirmed when he sent an email to the dealership for contact details of the delivery driver which promptly bounced back.
He rang the landline but unusually no one answered and that was the last he heard from them. Realising he’d been scammed he rang and emailed Streetwise for help and advice.
We immediately went into action, since what retired NHS nurse Tony was able to tell us set off the very same alarm bells.
We called the dealership and quickly discovered our worst fears had been realised. He’d been stung by a very convincing team of rogues.
They’d cloned the dealer’s website so that genuine adverts from real dealerships came up.
Unsuspecting buyers believed they were in touch with a genuine firm registered at Companies House.
Tony wasn’t the only one who’d been taken in. We learned around 30 other people, half of whom had found out the money they’d paid had lined the pockets of crooks.
Streetwise tried to check the IP website address to establish the location of the scam but it had promptly disappeared.
We gave Tony the relevant phone number of Natwest’s dedicated fraud and scams reporting centre so that he could take immediate evasive action to try to block the account. We also advised him to contact the police.
The bank acted with commendable speed.
Tony just couldn’t believe his luck when they got back to him within a morning to say they’d been successful in clawing back the entire £7,900 from the beneficiary account before the crooks had time to withdraw the money.
Because of the short delay in transferring it from his savings to the current account, the scam had been stymied in the nick of time.
A jubilant but angry Tony was still smarting from the duplicitous way he’d nearly been defrauded out of a considerable chunk of his savings.
‘I just felt stupid,’ he said. ‘I’ve worked hard all my life and for rogues to try to swindle me out of nearly £8,000 in my view makes them the scum of the earth.
‘I’ll be eternally grateful to Streetwise helping me to avoid being mugged and making a complete fool of myself. I believed I was on the ball, but obviously I wasn’t.
‘I’m not one who wants publicity, but if it helps others I’m only too pleased for you to publish my story so they don’t go down the same road.’