SALT LAKE CITY — When we're in the market for a car, many of us turn to the Internet. That's how a woman named Annie in West Valley City found a stranger in Anchorage, Alaska, willing to sell and deliver a wonderfully expensive, beautiful, fully loaded, five-year old Acura 3.2 TL for only $2,500.
The seller, Nancy Thomas, sent us pictures. Google calls Nancy Thomas a "verified name and address in Anchorage, Alaska."
To complete this transaction, Google is keeping everyone honest, says the email. For security, "payment must be sent through Western Union to our verified agent, Dianna Bryant in Bronson, Fla."
This car ... would be worth more than $2,500 in parts alone.
The deal appears safe. But before sending money, let's check out the Acura's price locally with Jody Wilkinson Acura.
"That's ridiculous," said Rex Gines, the general sales manager. He says nobody would sell that car for that ridiculously low price to a stranger.
"This car, if it had been wrecked and sitting on the back of a tow truck or in a junkyard somewhere, it would be worth more than $2,500 in parts alone," he said.
So, is it a scam? Well, let's go back.
First, we found supposedly verified seller Nancy Thomas in Anchorage, Alaska does not exist.
- Make sure you are purchasing merchandise from a reputable source.
- Do your homework on the individual or company to ensure that they are legitimate.
- Obtain a physical address rather than simply a post office box and a telephone number, and call the seller to see if the telephone number is correct and working.
- Send an e-mail to the seller to make sure the e-mail address is active.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau from the seller's area.
- Check out other websites regarding this person/company.
- Don't judge a person or company by their website. Flashy websites can be set up quickly.
- Be cautious when responding to special investment offers, especially through unsolicited e-mail.
- Be cautious when dealing with individuals/companies from outside your own country.
- Inquire about returns and warranties.
- If possible, purchase items online using your credit card, because you can often dispute the charges if something goes wrong.
- Make sure the transaction is secure when you electronically send your credit card numbers.
The address does, so I guess it's a real address Google can verify, but not Nancy Thomas. It's the same with a bunch of other names in other cities where similar low-price cars are supposedly being sold.
The address in Bronson, Fla. where supposedly Google verified agent Dianna Bryant lives is a trailer. Sure, the address exists, but we can't find a Dianna Bryant there.
What about all the fancy logos for Google and Western Union? Any con artist can copy logos and paste them on their website until they get caught trying to fool the public, then disappear.
"They've been doing it for years. They know how to do it. They know how to attract people that are looking for a great deal on a car."
The FBI says variations of this scam account for 14,000 complaints nationwide in the past two years. And that's only the ones reported.
So, why doesn't law enforcement catch these crooks?
First, they set up and tear down their scam businesses in just days or weeks. Moreover, the money you send by Western Union only appears to be going to a local address and people. They usually go directly overseas, never to be seen again.
Once you send money by wire, it can be picked up anywhere in the world, and the thief vanishes.