Fla. AG Warns of Phony Car Buyer Scam

August 9, 2005

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist has issued a consumer alert warning Floridians of an emerging scam in which con artists target individuals trying to sell their vehicles and other items.

The Attorney General’s Office has reportedly received numerous complaints from consumers across the state reporting the overpayment scam. In this scheme, a thief selects the victim after browsing through classified ads for a car or other large-ticket item offered for sale. The thief pretends to be an interested buyer from out of town and sends payment in the form of a cashier’s check, money order or personal check. The payment typically arrives in an amount greater than the purchase price.

The con artist then asks the seller to wire the overpaid amount to another party or back to the “purchasers,” sometimes explaining that the purchaser lives in another country and the third party will use the money to ship the vehicle overseas. After the money is wired, the original check bounces or turns out to be a high-quality counterfeit, and the innocent consumer loses the money.

“This is yet another example of crooks taking advantage of people’s trusting nature,” said Crist. “Unfortunately, Floridians must constantly be on the alert for people who might be looking for a quick way to make an easy buck. If consumers are aware of these scams, they can better protect themselves from becoming the next victims.”

Angie Denton in North Florida was suspicious when she received an offer for $4,000 more than the price of a truck she was selling online. The buyer wanted Denton to wire the difference back to them, but she felt uneasy about the request and did not accept the $8,000 cashier’s check.

Another South Florida couple fell victim to the scam in January after they posted an online ad for a Miami apartment to rent. They were contacted by a “student” from London stating he or she was interested in the apartment and would send a cashier’s check for the rent. The check was for $2,500 more than the $1,000 the renters asked for. The “student” asked the couple to wire the difference back, saying the overpayment was a mistake. After wiring the money back, the couple realized the original check was fraudulent and they had lost their $2,500.

The Attorney General’s Office offers the following tips to avoid falling prey to this scam:

– Know who you are dealing with. Independently confirm the buyer’s name, address and telephone number. Keep in mind that most legitimate buyers would want to see a car before buying it.

– Never accept payment for more than the purchase price of the item, no matter how tempting. Never wire money to the buyer or a third party at the buyer’s request. If the buyer insists that you wire back funds, end the transaction immediately – legitimate buyers won’t pressure you to send money.

– If possible, accept only cash. If you do accept a check for payment, do not turn over the car until you verify that the check has cleared the issuing bank.

– Request a check drawn on a local bank or a bank with a local branch, which allows you to make a personal visit to make sure the check is valid. If you cannot get a check from a local bank, call the bank where the check originated and ask if it is valid. Get the bank’s phone number from directory assistance or an internet site you know and trust, not from the person who gave you the check.

– Resist any pressure to “act now.” If the buyer’s offer is good now, it should still be good after the check clears the issuing bank.

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