In March 2007 our 1963 Austin Healey 3000 MkIIA was the subject of an attempted eBay Scam
Austin Healey 3000 for hire in Warwickshire
Checking on the seller showed he was also trying to sell an MG Xpower SV which he also didn't own and was for sale by a dealer in Hampshire. I informed the MG SV dealer and duly filled in the appropriate eBay form to report the perpetrator and assumed the problem would go away. I received an automated reply from eBay which didnt fill me with any confidence that the problem would be resolved.
I watched the price of the Healey increase throughout the Thursday from a couple of hundred Pounds to over £9,000. Even at that price, anyone that knew about Healeys knew that it was far too cheap. The seller had bounced most of those bids saying that this was a 'pre-approved' auction and only bids that he had agreed would be accepted. Presumably he wanted to check that the buyer existed and he could take the money and run. Sneaky, considering he wasn't genuine.
Since being informed that our Healey was for sale on eBay I took the following actions:
- I completed the online fraud report form on eBay, telling them about the auction of both my own car and the MG Xpower SV.
- I placed a bid on my car to see what would happen and to see if I would be able to get the sellers details. It was immediately outbid as a previous bidder had placed a higher bid earlier. The seller then continued to reject bids saying it was a pre-approved auction and he would only accept bids from people who contacted him directly first.
- There is an option on eBay whereby a buyer can request a seller's details, but the seller gets copied on this and I didn't want that to happen so didn't bother.
- Similarly I could have just sent the seller a question asking why he was trying to sell one of my cars. I thought it was better for eBay to sort him out and presumably suspend his account. Although this doesn't stop him re-registering as someone else.
- eBay had recently changed the system so the site no longer gave bidders' details, calling them Bidder1, Bidder 2 etc. However for a while I was able to see their details, although I don't know what triggered this. I managed to email three of the high bidders telling them it was a scam, before the eBay system told me I couldn't do this as I didn't have a definite relationship with them.
- When I checked eBay on the Saturday morning (08:30 UK time) both auctions (Healey and MG Xpower) had completely disappeared, so it looked as if the eBay police did their thing. This meant it had taken about 1.5 days to get it removed. The auction was only for 3 days, so it does mean that if this happens to you in the future, you have to act quickly.
- I phoned my local Trading Standards office but the guy I spoke to obviously didn't have a clue so it was a complete waste of time.
- I subscribe to a number of Blogs and loaded up details of the scam, complete with seller details.
How would the scam have worked?
Firstly it is important to note the the scammer never had access to the Austin Healey. It was securely locked in my garage the whole time.
It wasn't even booked out in the next few days so there was no chance of a hirer pretending to be the owner and taking someone for a 'test' drive.
The scammer will normally say that he is unavailable, or out of the country and that a successful bidder should send across the deposit (normally a substantial one of £500 or £1,000) and then arrange for the buyer to come and view the car.
Then before the car can be viewed, the scammer just disappears having pocketed the deposit.
As always, every cloud has a silver lining, and some good news came out of this whole episode.
I sent details off to the local press and all the classic car magazines. The following week I was featured on the front page of the Warwick Courier and the inside of two other local papers. Over the succeeding months, articles about the episode appeared in 5 of the classic car magazines. For months afterwards this was a talking point with virtually everyone we met and with many customers who did actually hire out the Austin Healey. I even had a couple of people ask me if I had arranged the whole thing just to get all the publicity? I'm never that creative or that devious.
Since the event we have taken a number of actions to protect us from a similar scam in the future, but we won't give details of these as it would tell the scammers how to get round them.
I remain philosophical about the whole incident and view it in a very positive light. Over the couple of days until the auction disappeared, we were contacted by almost 10 people warning us that the car was for sale. So while this guy was a scammer, most of the people out there on the Internet are good, honest people.