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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Online Car Buying Scam

I know, this isn't art related either, but all these scams have common approaches, so we learn from all of them and become better at recognizing a fake offer when it is presented.

In this case, I just feel bad for the guy. From the story, you can tell his gut was definitely telling him something didn't feel right. He just didn't have the knowledge of how to check and know for sure it was a scam. And he proceeded anyway.

Learn from his pain.

Just a few hours after Dr. Douglas Colkitt wired $39,500 for a 2006 Aston Martin, the Sarasota physician realized he had been the victim of an elaborate scam.

The offer looked legitimate, and the seller suggested using something called Google Checkout as an escrow agent. The site included the name of Internet giant Google in the web address, and used graphics from the legitimate Google web site color-for-color.

Colkitt even challenged a customer service representative at the site in two different online chats and told her, "Sorry for the skepticism, but I have been burned before."

Then a new e-mail came and Colkitt realized he was burned again. It was supposedly from a different car seller, but contained the same grammatical and spelling errors as the first seller's e-mail.

"I said, 'This is a scam, I've been scammed,'" Colkitt said.

Colkitt notified Chase bank's fraud department and the FBI in Atlanta, then realized he would have to file his own legal actions to freeze the money.

A judge looked at the evidence -- e-mails and chat logs -- and ordered the money frozen. But Colkitt said not every victim of an Internet scam can get such help.

"A lot of this white-collar crime, it seems like nobody investigates," Colkitt said.

The type of scam has been common for years, said Jeff Ostroff, who has run consumer advocate site since 1997.

And Colkitt unknowingly violated three guidelines to avoiding car-buying scams online, Ostroff said.

First, an escrow online is "just about 99 percent fraud," Ostroff said.

Second, he did not double-check the website he went to for Google Checkout. There is actually a Google Checkout, at But scammers set up websites with similar names -- in Colkitt's case it was

"As soon as you see a dash in the name, you know it's a scam," Ostroff said.

Third, Colkitt only got to the transaction site through the link provided to him in the seller's e-mail.

"How do I confirm this is google checkout?" Colkitt typed in a chat on the site.

The reply: "You've been redirected from your email witch has been sent from our support department"

Three tips to avoid car-buying scams online
1. No escrow: A seller requesting a transfer to an escrow account for the purchase is a warning sign for fraud.
2. No dashes: Legitimate websites secure communications,
and if there is a dash in the Web address it is usually a scam. For example, Google Checkout is at, not scam site
3. Do not follow e-mail links: Find the website yourself or do not go at all.

1 comment:

  1. Great post.

    Perhaps I can just add to this that the best way to guard against being ripped off by online sales or auctions of any kind, Craigslist and eBay included—and whether seller or buyer—is to use a *bona fide* online escrow company. Especially for pricier items like antiques, jewelry and autos. Although it does add some cost, it takes the uncertainty out of the transaction, and that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.

    For my money, the best bona fide online escrow (and there seems to be ten fraudulent escrow sites for every bona fide one) is probably ( In fact, it’s the only one that eBay recommends, and is the only online escrow company that is licensed to provide escrow services all across the United States.

    Take care,

    Ulf Wolf