“If it looks too good to be true, then it usually is.” The online ad for a 2008 Land Rover Defender 90 was just that. It was priced at £5,600 when a more realistic price for a similar age vehicle is around £18,000. So, straightaway I thought it was a scam. But my interest was piqued… and who knows, maybe there was a good reason for the low price.
No contact details were displayed alongside the pictures – another alert – but the last image showed an email address to contact: email@example.com So I dropped her an email asking if the price was correct. Almost instantly a reply came back. Here it is, exactly as it arrived:
Thank you for your interest in my 2008 Land Rover 90 Defender 2.4TDi SVX,62,500 miles ,DIESEL,Manual, Full Service History. All documents in original folders. 2 key fobs. The Defender is in perfect condition, 4 new tyres, no accidents, no damage, scratches or dents. HPI clear and fully paid.MOT valid.
I am selling it at £5,600 because I’ve just finished the divorce and I am very glad that I took it, because it was my ex husbands most precious thing. He cheated on me although we have 2 kids together, anyway I don’t wish to bore you with my life’s story…
I am the registered Owner.
Alarm bells were tinkling away but what the heck! let’s pursue this a bit further. So I asked to see the car. Again, almost immediately, the reply came:
I’m very busy with my job ( I’m a surgeon ) in a training program(medical stuff) right now, in Germany.
I will fly to UK only if I have a genuine buyer.I can’t fly for all potentials buyers,this is the reason for using secure transaction.
The deal will be handled by www.escrow.com
Using escrow services, you get free shipping, at your place in 48h.You will have a 7 days inspection.
In case the vehicle is not as i described, the transaction is canceled and Escrow will refund your money back in,immediately.
Escrow companies are supposed to be the safest way to do online transactions, particularly when dealing with Internet auction sales of expensive items such as Vehicle.
eBay recommend to use this service for all transaction. http://pages.ebay.com/help/pay/escrow.html
If you are not familiar ,Please visit www.escrow.com and if you agree please contact me.I will register the transaction and Escrow will send you the notification with all the information regarding our transaction.
Please keep me updated and hope to conclude this deal successfully.
So, first thing I did was to look at the links she sent. escrow.com is a legitimate, respectable business and I’ve used it before, to buy an internet domain from a US broker. So I re-opened my account with them and went through the ID checks they required. I assumed Olivia Moss must have done something similar.
Continuing my due dilegence, I ran an RAC check on the car, using the registration number clearly visible in the photos in the ad – AA05 FUN. The RAC check came back clear, correctly identifying the car but not, of course, the registered keeper. Only the police can do that unless you have a very good reason to give to DVLA.
However, the deal was looking sounder at this point so I replied to Olivia Moss saying, “OK, let’s complete this deal.” The reply:
I will start the transaction with Escrow.
You will receive a notification from Escrow with all details.
Please note that all Escrow.com transactions are made in USD currency. You will not be charged for this,the conversion will be made automatically when the payment is done. The total price agreed is £5,600, you will pay in pounds,no fees required.
You will receive the notification equivalent in USD $7,048.
After you will accept ,Escrow send you the payment invoice for UK customers in £ pounds.
An invoice duly arrived from escrow.com (or so it appeared). The key part was where the payment of £5,600 was going. Not to an account in the US but to a bank account with Halifax Bank with a bank sortcode which turned out to be in Paignton, Devon.
I checked my escrow.com account but the transaction was not showing. I emailed escrow.com with a copy of the invoice to ask why the transaction wasn’t there. I had another email, again purporting to come from escrow.com, saying I had just 1 day to complete the transaction, again quoting the Halifax Bank account.
Then came another email from Olivia:
I’ve just got a notice from Escrow and they sent you the Payment Invoice with all the details.
Escrow sent you the payment invoice for UK customers in £ pounds.(£5,600)
Just wanted to be sure that you received it and if you understood how to make the payment, and how to confirm it.
Now I will wait for the confirmation from Escrow that you have completed the payment.
If you have any question please reply. Keep me posted
Another email purporting to from escrow.com, this time with the header:
This is not a SCAM
Escrow.com is a USA based company and we are constantly expanding our business in EU countries and United Kingdom. In this moment we do not have our company registered in your country. Therefore , all bank accounts are operated by our stuff as is against domestic laws to get a company bank account without the company being registered in that country. All beneficiaries are part of Escrow.com and we assume any responsibility in connection with your money. You can pay for your transaction in maximum safety conditions.
Note the grammatical mistakes and incorrect wording here and there. I decided to check the actual email address this email came from. It was firstname.lastname@example.org I looked at other emails from escrow.com. The ones with the invoice were from the same address.
I decided to do a bit of snooping and looked up the domain register for http://www.support-escrow.com It was private, hidden from public view – something that’s perfectly legal and easy to do with a dot com domain. I checked http://www.escrow.com and, being a respectable company, their details were listed.
The domain www.support-escrow.com had been setup by the scammers, their emails ripped off the genuine company’s artwork and style sheet (although the scammers’ grammar was imperfect). Olivia Moss is a scammer, or criminal, as straight-speaking people would call her (or him, who knows?).
So, I didn’t proceed, of course. 24 hours later I received an email from the genuine escrow.com saying the invoice was fake, don’t pay it. Thanks, guys, really on the case.
I reported the incident to Vehicle Safe Trading Advisory Group http://www.vstag.co.uk/ and I’ve just had a reply from them asking where the ad was posted.
I’ll follow this up with a report to Paignton police (where the bank account was held) and also to escrow.com, just in case they care to follow it up.
If anything further happens, I’ll report back, but as they used to say in Hill Street Blues, “Be careful out there.”