I know this is a little off topic, but I feel compelled to write up this experience so that I can hopefully prevent someone from giving money to this horrible internet scammer… it makes me sad that there are people behaving like this, but that’s the nature of the human race I guess. Most of us are good, honest, trustworthy people … and then there are people like this.
So, we’re in the market for a second hand car at the moment. We’ve been looking on Gumtree lately and the other day we found what looked like the perfect car for us – it was a 2004 VOLKSWAGEN POLO 1.4 Twist 5dr Automatic in excellent condition with not too many miles on it, gorgeous looking photos, and a very decent price tag of £2600.
Unusually, the advertisement did not include a phone number, so we sent an enquiry off via the email form and waited to hear back.
It didn’t take long before we received an email back from ‘TK’ at [email protected] who told us the following story:
First of all I have to tell you that the vehicle is in good condition, has no technical damage at all, no scratches or dents, no hidden defects, no smoking. It’s fun and robust to drive. Technical inspection and emissions testing is passed and stamped as well.
It has title of ownership, cleared of any obligations or fees and comes with all the documents you need to register it. The reason I am selling the car is because I really have to not because I don’t like it anymore.
I have worked in UK for the last 2 years and I’ve purchased the car there. My company wanted me back home, so currently I’m in Rome, Italy. I’ve bring the car home with me. I decided that is better to sell it because I don `t use it anymore (the wheel is on right side and is very difficult for me to drive it in Italy) and it `s a pitty to keep such a car and not to use it.
I realize that is a cheap price for such a car but my special situation makes me do things that I wouldn’t do in normal circumstances.
The price I am looking for my car is £2,600 including the shipping costs,insurance and handling (delivery to EUROPE).
You will not have to pay additional taxes for this.
The car has MOT, Road tax until next year. Also has full service history and it is hpi cleared.
Please feel free to email me with any questions you may have.
Yeah, I know… you can see the red lights flashing already, can’t you… but we *really* wanted to buy this car and wanted it not to be a scam, so we wrote back and asked what he had planned to do re: shipping the car… of course, he had it all worked out, this is what he said:
I would like to use a shipping company for this deal, the process is very easy and I have just bought a 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee and this is why I know how it works.
This company will handle the delivery of the car and also they will handle all the registration papers. If we will use it you will have 5 days to inspect the car before you decide to buy it.
I will pay delivery! The delivery time will be arround 3-4 days and the car will be delivered at your home address. In this time you will receive the tracking number of the transaction so you can use it to check the status on the company website.
Let me explain you the whole proccess:
First I will need your details, full name and address. As soon as I get the info from you I will take the car and go to the shipping company to transfer it in their custody. I will pay all the shipping charges. After the car is in their custody they will send you a confirmation and also payment instructions. They work as an escrow service and will hold the payment during the 5 days period for inspection. After the payment is confirmed to them, they will get the car to your home address and will also give you the documents of registration and the car will be left in your custody, in this period you can inspect the car, take it to a service for inspection and drive test it. After the 5 days period is over the shipping company will come to you and if you decided to keep the car you will transfer the documents on your name and after the car is registered on your name they will release the payment to me. If you decide not to buy the car they will get the car back and will send you a full refund of the payment.
Please e-mail me with your decision and also your full name and address!!
My phone no. is: 0039 3284-011-602, I am available in the morning before 10 AM, in the afternoon I am at work so will get back to you by email.
I’m no psychology student, but I think that young Thomas has really put some effort into understanding how to build rapport and to build a sense of trust – gradually letting us know more information about him (his name, his phone no. etc), creating a shared experience through telling us he’s just bought a car this way etc.
Still… it all sounds a bit too good to be true, doesn’t it? That’s what we were thinking, but yet we were still hopeful. We asked him for more details about this shipping company, and he responds quickly with:
Let me know if you decide to go with the purchase and I wait your reply with your full name and address I could take the car to the shipping company Monday.
Wow. So now we get to call him Tom. And he kindly provides us with a website address. Note the rather odd URL though… the experience continues to be dodgy as you head through to examine the website… sure, the design is pretty average, but lots of companies are. The thing that *really* got me was that the text on the website was just utterly opaque, it made absolutely NO sense. I could not see that this ‘company’ was in the business of shipping cars and managing transactions as our ‘friend’ Tom had described.
Nonetheless, we emailed Tom and told him we were going to proceed and Tom emailed us later the following day to tell us that he’d been to the shipping company to give them the car and paid the 500 euro fee, and asked us to let him know when we heard from the shipping company. He gave us a ‘tracking number’ that we could apparently use to track the transaction on TransCargo’s website.
And we did hear from the shipping company within minutes of hearing from Tom. It was a reasonably designed up HTML email that said:
Welcome to TransCargo Ltd,
Current status: Payment pending
Through this e-mail we have the pleasure to inform you that the merchandise has been left in our custody. The seller has paid for shipping.
Our Company is the European market leader in global express and international mail services. TransCargo reduces risks associated with Internet transactions by acting as a licensed, trusted, neutral third party for on-line transactions. The seller leaves the merchandise into TransCargo custody.
The merchandise will remain in TransCargo custody until the buyer provides the payment information to TransCargo. The payment will be made through a Wire Transfer Service. Once the funds are verified by TransCargo, the merchandise will be shipped directly to your address, shipping time – 3 working days. You will have a 5 days period for inspection. The payment will be hold by TransCargo during the 5 days inspection
Via Barzilai Salvatore 115
VOLKSWAGEN POLO 1.4 Twist
Shipping Fees: *500.00
Package Type: EXPRESS DELIVERY
Billing Information for the Shipment:
Payment Method: Mastercard XXXX-2008
Total: All currencies in EURO **500.00
VOLKSWAGEN POLO 1.4 Twist
Service: Door Arrival
Delivery Time: 3 days
Shipment ID: 0QA08472T7
You can track your merchandise directly by accessing this link: http://www.auto-transcargo.com/
Next step to be taken: The buyer must send the payment to TransCargo Ltd., Payment Department, for verification.
Full amount to be paid: £2,600.
Payment has to be done via Bank Account Wire Transfer.
Trans Cargo Payment Department Bank Account:
Name: Bolnerg Maurizio
Iban: ES89 2038 3364 5830 0053 0851
BIC/CODIGO SWIFT: CAHMESMMXXX
After the payment has been done you have to send us the scanned receipt of the transfer from the bank so we can verify the funds.
The e-mail with the payment details should be as specific as possible, to allow us to verify that the payment has been made.Please send us the payment information in this email address: [email protected]
Once the funds are verified by TransCargo, the merchandise will be shipped directly to your address, shipping time – 3 working days.
To ask for a refund, simply reply to this notification and enter in the subject line: Refund request for transaction number: 0QA08472T7We’d like to thank you once again for being part of the community that has helped make TransCargo Ltd the best-known Shipping Company.
Trade Financial Department
More dodgy stuff – check out the name of the bank account we were supposed to transfer into… what’s that about? Also, where’s the tracking number that Tom told us about? Why isn’t the shipping company telling us about the tracking number (not to mention that it didn’t work on the website anyways).
So, then we got into some more real world investigations. We checked the company number and that all matched up, but then we tried to call the phone numbers on the company website and had no luck getting through to them. We then tried directory assistance and they couldn’t locate the company. We did end up getting through to someone who worked in the building that this company supposedly operated out of and ultimately ended up talking to the accountants of the *real* TransCargo shipping company who are in fact a chemicals shipping company and who don’t do any business in Italy. Apparently this wasn’t the first time they’d received a phone call along these lines, but the previous calls had been from people wondering where their car was… people who had clearly handed over the money to the ‘shipping’ company.
So, despite the fact that Tom continued to chase us for updates on what we happening with the ‘shipping company’ we had to decide that perhaps this car wasn’t for us… because it was pretty clear that there *was* no such car.
We’ve contacted the police – on the general number they told us to go to the station and they’ll ‘log it’ – they’re not going to follow it up because they get so many of these kinds of reports and because there might be a potential jurisdiction issue if this Tom guy is actually in Rome (I wouldn’t mind betting he’s somewhere in the UK myself). I emailed the cyberfraud people about a week ago to see if they were interested and haven’t heard back from them. I continue to report these postings to GumTree (as he keeps posting a new advertisement every couple of days, and I’m still looking for a car to buy), and I’m about to email off the details to Yahoo to see if they want to do something about this guy using a Yahoo email address for evil purposes… and, of course, now I’m posting this and hoping that the next person he tries to scam will Google and hopefully see this and not go through with it… anything else I can do to be a good internet citizen, do you think?
Meanwhile, I’m just going to take a moment to be kind of melancholy about the fact that every now and then humankind does let you down, and makes the internet that kind of scary and untrustworthy place that we try so hard to stop it from being… and then I’m going to remember that the vast majority of us out there are good and choose to dwell on that instead.
My name is Leisa Reichelt. I am the Head of User Research at the Government Digital Service in the Cabinet Office.
I lead a team of great researchers who work in agile, multidisciplinary digital teams to help continuously connect the people who design products with the people who will use them and support experimentation and ongoing learning in product design.
If you're interested in working with me or would like to talk more please email me