Staying Safe with Online Vehicle Sales

eBay is one of the most trusted ecommerce marketplaces, with over 149 million active buyers and over 700 million listings. The trust and global recognition of eBay also makes it attractive for cyber-criminals to impersonate and exploit the eBay brand. Scammers impersonate eBay and social engineer victims into sending their hard-earned money—all while victims believe they have been communicating with eBay.

One popular scam involves fraudulent vehicle sales with scammers impersonating eBay ‘s vehicle purchase protection (VPP) or buyer protection programs. eBay ‘s VPP covers up to $50,000 when the vehicle transaction starts and ends on eBay.

The Scam

Imagine your daughter is buying her first car. She scours online sites looking for an affordable used car. She finds a great deal and contacts the seller via the classifieds site. After exchanging a few emails asking for more details and pictures, she is ready to commit to the purchase. However, the seller may reply that they cannot meet in person because they are working overseas. The seller insists, “The transaction will be made through eBay’s protection program for our own safety.” The seller reminds the buyer if they are unhappy with the vehicle, the vehicle can be returned, expenses paid, for a full refund from eBay. What a great deal and all under the protection of eBay.

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After the seller “starts the transaction with eBay,” your daughter now receives a series of emails from “eBay.” One email may welcome her to the eBay VPP program, highlight the attributes of the program, tell her she is protected during the transaction, and indicate the seller is in good standing with eBay. Another email contains the invoice for the transaction and outlines the procedure for sending money to the “eBay agent” who will hold the money until the buyer receives the vehicle and confirms the vehicle has successfully passed inspection. The invoice will commonly ask for payment via MoneyPak, Western Union, MoneyGram, Reloadit, or bank transfer.

At this point a few buyers smell a scam as they are familiar with eBay and know there is no such entity as an “eBay agent” who holds money in escrow. Some buyers are (falsely) reassured after they contact the “eBay” customer-support live chat or toll-free numbers listed in the bogus invoice.

Unfortunately, there are buyers who continue with the transaction and send money, losing thousands of dollars. They eagerly await the arrival of their vehicle, but it never arrives.

In some cases the seller continues the scam, trying to extract more payments from the victim. In one scenario the buyer is told there is a problem with the shipping company, and she needs to send shipping fees that will be refunded upon delivery. The cyber-crooks are convincing and ingenious at stealing your money.

If You Have Been Scammed

In the unfortunate event that you’ve been scammed, please do the following to help law enforcement and private industry investigate the scammers:

  • File a complaint at ic3.gov.
  • File a complaint with MoneyPak, Western Union, banks, or other payment processors.
  • Forward all emails to car@ebay.com with “MONEY SENT” and the dollar loss in the subject line.

You might be thinking, “Oh, I’d never fall for this scam.” Never say never. Victims are from all walks of life, from students to lawyers. Buyers are caught up in the emotion of the purchase, wanting to finalize this steal of a deal as quickly as possible. The cyber-scammers play upon human emotions and exploit the trust of the eBay brand to social engineer victims into their trap.

Be Aware and Vigilant

If friends or family are purchasing a vehicle outside of eBay, and they confidently state that they are protected by eBay, remind them of the following points:

  • If a seller from a non-eBay site says the transaction is handled or protected by eBay, the seller is lying. eBay does not handle transactions that start off eBay.
  • Be suspicious of sellers who cannot meet in person or who do not allow physical inspection of the vehicle prior to sale.
  • There are no entities such as “eBay agent” or “eBay Financial Department” that accept payment via MoneyPak, Western Union, Money Gram, Reloadit, or bank transfer.
  • Official eBay emails, including invoices and transaction notices, will appear in the buyer’s My Messages section of My eBay.
  • Remember the adage, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

If there are any doubts, walk away. It is better to lose a “great deal” than to lose a few thousand dollars.

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