Here’s what to do if you’re scammed by the ad that’s too good to be true

James Coleman 10 December 2020 8
Mazda 3

The mythical $7K Mazda that wasn’t. Photo: Facebook.

The ad went something like this: “$6,800. Selling this beautiful 2015 Mazda 3 for my Auntie Angela. Her email address is on the 2nd and 3rd photos. Do NOT message me here – I’m at work and can’t answer.”

It is a bit odd that someone who has the time to superimpose an email address on not just one, but two photos, can’t then find the disposable time to reply “yes” to an “Is this still available?” message, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. And when you’ve been sucked in by a scam, you get a lot of hindsight.

But when an offer is too good to be true, you tend to gloss over inconsistencies and find reasons to justify the bargain that’s just fallen in your lap. So maybe the sweet old lady had just enlisted her reluctant granddaughter to post an ad on “that new-fangled Face-thingo” – in this case, Facebook Marketplace.

Facebook Marketplace is rapidly becoming the go-to one-stop-shop for buyers and sellers in any given area. It’s easy, convenient, local and nearly everyone’s on it. Which is a problem. Where there’s meat, there’s flies. Scammers and their sneaky tactics and stories are breeding left, right and centre, and here’s the thing – they’re clever. So don’t ever feel stupid for getting duped. When you come across a scammer for the first time, you may well not know it – and that’s the point of a scam. It’s meant to be believable. And we want to believe.

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Our “innocent until proven guilty” method of appraising people kicks in, the excitement bubbles up about what a good deal you’ve found, and a sprinkling of confirmation bias does the rest to ensure the warning signs remain hidden.

Classified scams, like the ones you’ll find on Facebook Marketplace, are used by both buyers and sellers alike and so far this year, have cost more than 7000 Australians more than $5 million. And that’s just what’s been reported.

I was almost one of them.

I responded by email, but it was then that the ‘little old lady’ image of the seller started falling apart.

The tale she told was that she (if it even was a she) was in Tasmania but had to move to New Zealand for a “project”. She needed to sell the car quickly for the cash, and if we agreed to buy it, the car would be shipped to our address on the back of an RAAF truck (for nothing!)

We’d then have five days to try it out before she’d receive the money.

The generic “Hi there” prompted the first niggle, but the fact that our national defence force was shipping cars around for Auntie Angela came a close second.

Scam email

The scam email received by James Coleman. Image: Supplied.

What followed was a couple of equally generic and confusing emails, during which she drew out my name, address and phone number, without supplying me with so much as the registration plate of the vehicle.

To settle the growing cold-sweats, I decided to dig around a bit.

I soon discovered that the very same Mazda was for sale on Same photos, same kilometres, but in Victoria, and selling for a far more credible $15,000.

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It also turns out the ‘granddaughter’ who had posted the Facebook ad lives in Argentina.

I forwarded all of these findings to the ‘Auntie’ and have heard nothing since. Gotcha.

But the truth is, I got lucky. Here’s how you can save yourself from scams.

1. If it’s too good to be true, it is

There are no exceptions. A 2015 Mazda 3 Maxx with 80,000 km for $6K? Rubbish.

I’m not suggesting you automatically assume every seller is a liar, but what I’ve learned is that if the messaging takes a turn for the weird, back away. Fast.

What you must never do is transfer any money until you’ve seen the actual car and the actual owner with your actual eyes, preferably in a public place. In the meantime, ask for the car’s details and look it up.

2. Report it to Facebook

As soon as you see the likes of a $7K 2015 Mazda, press the three little dots at the top right of the listing and report it as a scam.

First, this will feel good as an act of vengeance, but secondly, and more importantly, you’re potentially saving someone else from a lot of heartache.

The Facebook algorithms will also pick up on the theme, thus foiling the scammer’s tactic.

3. Recover your identity

Most of the online car sale scams are after your money, but there is an uneasiness knowing that your personal details are in the wrong hands, especially when it comes to a bank account.

A free, government-funded service such as iDcare can talk you through what to do if you get to that stage.

4. Contact your financial institution

If money has become involved, contact your bank as soon as possible. They can lock your account before further damage is done. This is crucial, given that with online scams, it is extremely unlikely for you to ever see your money again.

5. Report it to the authorities

The most obvious path is to call the local police. But you should also report it to the Australian Government’s ScamWatch and the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).

Obviously, in my case, it’s hard for an Argentinean to face consequences at the hands of the Australian justice system, but your report will be used by these departments to identify scam strategies and hot spots.

You can find more information about classified scams and where to get help on the ACCC ScamWatch website.

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8 Responses to Here’s what to do if you’re scammed by the ad that’s too good to be true
Shari Gabriel Shari Gabriel 10:01 pm 12 Dec 20

For us ex-Tasmanians the idea of a military base in Devonport is so ridiculous....

Gerry Gageldonk Gerry Gageldonk 10:15 pm 12 Dec 20

Like those motor homes at unbelievable cheap prices ?

Jeremy Thomas Jeremy Thomas 7:53 am 13 Dec 20

Damian: “The generic “Hi there” prompted the first niggle”

Karl Brown Karl Brown 8:11 am 13 Dec 20

Always after a bargain, I had a look at one of the sponsored ads that come up on Facebook with one of these unbelievable deals. Being a sponsored ad it gave me an inkling that it might actually be legitimate.

In my first contact I got the rego number and VIN of the car but also the shifty story about being at a defence force base getting ready to be deployed to NZ.

I quickly blocked the scammer but not before I did a couple of checks.

This car was not advertised for sale anywhere and was registered in QLD. The scammer told me the car was in NSW or VIC (can't remember fully) and they were in Tas but, as the article says, could be transported to me. Odd.

I then checked the QLD registration database and the car certainly was a legitimate, registered vehicle which, on the face of it could look legit.

What was the kicker, they said I could transfer the money after I got the car using PayPal and ebay motors but the car wasn't advertised there as yet. They said that they would organise that if I was happy with the car. Another red flag, Ebay doesn't work that way.

Going into it I thought it was too good to be true but was interested to see what was going on. Facebook obviously don't do any vetting of their sponsored ads so being aware and covering your bum is a must.

ssek ssek 12:15 pm 14 Dec 20

You missed the simplest one. Only make face to face transactions using cash or a bank cheque. Anybody who wants you to transfer them money on a local classified is scamming you.

Kel Jackson Kel Jackson 12:54 am 16 Dec 20

Don't flag with scammers or tell them what is wrong with their advert or why it's not believable. You are only giving them the opportunity to get better at scamming others.

daie daie 6:42 pm 11 Feb 21

Good article James. The contact someone else/Defence Force scam.
You’d think Facebook by now would have an algorithm that picks up an email address within a photograph and says “No”.

franky22 franky22 9:31 pm 11 Feb 21

The red flag is they are in defence/remote area/oil rig/overseas and or can’t be contacted.

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