(too) Cheap car with escrow. What could go wrong?
September 19, 2008 1:56 PM   Subscribe

She's selling the Mini for $10k under retail and will ship it out here at no cost for me to inspect. It's just like nice Mr. Oreck and his vacuum cleaners! So what's the scam? Or is it too good and true?

My mom has been wanting to buy a Mini Cooper for the longest time, and regularly looks on Craigslist and other sites for sales. Yesterday, she found someone selling it for under $5,000. The cars retail new for about 4 times that amount. Ostensibly, the seller just needs to get rid of it so it doesn't rot in her driveway while she's deployed in Iraq. I think she could sell in in all of 30 seconds to a dealer for double her asking price. One other weird thing is that the ad was placed locally, but the car is 3 three states away for some reason. I also couldn't find an ad local to where the car is.

So here's the deal. She says she'll set it up though eBay Motors, using their "Business Purchase Protection Program", wherein she ships the car, along with the "title,bill of sale, full service records and more" at her cost. We simply pay eBay, and she ships upon deposit of the money. eBay holds the money "until you receive and inspect the car (you have 5 days for inspection) If you will find the smallest problem with the car you will ship it back on my expense and ebay will send you your full amount back."

This seems like a regular escrow deal. And escrows are supposed to prevent both parties from getting ripped off, right? So is there some loop hole we're missing, or is this really as safe as it looks?
posted by niles to Work & Money (30 answers total)
eBay does escrow? News to me. Sounds fishy.
posted by meta_eli at 2:02 PM on September 19, 2008

Even if you can't put your finger on it, it's still got to be a scam. I bet your gut is right. This can't be the fastest or simplest way of getting rid of her car. Why would she list it on CL but then want to sell it through ebay?

If it's only three states away, depending on the states, maybe you could be there in 8 hours? It might make a fun weekend trip for you and your mom to see what the scam is. Ask her if you can drop by, see the title, see the car, and if everything is great, buy it and drive it home. I wouldn't think of doing it any other way.
posted by fritley at 2:05 PM on September 19, 2008

It's a scam. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. This is the internet we're talking about. My guess: the escrow company is phony and/or the eBay link she sends is a phony.

Run screaming.
posted by MegoSteve at 2:05 PM on September 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

As a general rule of thumb, any out-of-state seller on Craigslist is a scam, especially when the price is too good to be true. Run away, even if the mechanics of the scam aren't clear.
posted by Sxyzzx at 2:05 PM on September 19, 2008

Scam. If a seller is willing to let a small (non SUV/Pickup) vehicle go at these high gas price times, for that price, he or she could walk into any dealer in the country and they'd buy it for even more.

There will be some shipping problem and she'll ask you to send a check or paypal her money outside the auction to help out, after all the car is so cheap. Then the seller and your cash disappear.
posted by Science! at 2:05 PM on September 19, 2008

In other words, I'd make damn sure that the escrow service is legit. In fact, find your own escrow service and use that. I can't imagine that a legit escrow charges more than the fees on a full eBay sale.
posted by meta_eli at 2:06 PM on September 19, 2008

I've seen these people on Craigslist before. It's a scam.
posted by zsazsa at 2:08 PM on September 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

Words to live by.
posted by philip-random at 2:10 PM on September 19, 2008

Tell the seller that you happen to have a friend in the area who can drop by and take a look at the Mini. Dollars to donuts you never hear from her again.

You'd could also try requesting the VIN so you can run a CarFax report. A legitimate seller shouldn't hesitate to provide it.
posted by indyz at 2:10 PM on September 19, 2008

This page at eBay suggests that you should only use escrow.com - is that what the seller suggested?
posted by desjardins at 2:10 PM on September 19, 2008

indyz: she sent the VIN in the first email, oddly enough. My mom didn't purchase the report yet, so I guess it could be bogus, or pulled from the local parking garage, or whatever, but we do have one.

desjardins: no, she suggested the "Business Purchase Protection Program". Google and eBay have never heard of it.

everyone else: yeah, mostly what we figured. I have this mentality of going as far I as can and either getting the car/phone/etc for dirt cheap (it worked once..) or calling their bluff (i.e. "really? you have to use bogus-escrow.com now? I heard that's a scam. Have you heard anything about that?"). My parents, no doubt smarter than I, won't even go down that road. Thanks for the crushing reality :)
posted by niles at 2:17 PM on September 19, 2008

A friend of mine found a similar "great deal" and was a bit suspicious. After googling, she found evidence of this being a scam. I will try to get some links, but, in the meantime, I strongly suggest that you stay away from it!
posted by aroberge at 2:18 PM on September 19, 2008

It doesnt matter what the specifics of it are ------ ITS A SCAM. Always. Everytime.
posted by SirStan at 2:18 PM on September 19, 2008

I could sell a $20k to anyone on the street for 5k in about 10 minutes -- why would I post it to CL and sell it states away and pay an escro service?
posted by SirStan at 2:19 PM on September 19, 2008

Sounds to me like an email address harvesting scam. I regularly browse the local Craigslist motorcycle sales section and these kinds of grossly undervalued items are rampant on there these days.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:31 PM on September 19, 2008

Previously, similar.
posted by knave at 2:36 PM on September 19, 2008

She says she'll set it up though eBay Motors, using their "Business Purchase Protection Program"

No such thing. She made it up. eBay does not provide such a service.

The supposed escrow site she'll tell you to use will be under her control. Then she'

If you have questions about this alleged eBay service, ask eBay about how it works. They'll tell you to run away.
posted by winston at 2:53 PM on September 19, 2008

doh. hit submit while editing. should be: Then she'll have the money already when you think it's in escrow.
posted by winston at 2:54 PM on September 19, 2008

ha! Another better, newer, pimped out Mini Cooper just got listed for $9k. Glad she held out! We can help "Melissa" get the 7 passenger van she should have bought in the first place.
Kidding. No one's touching that with a 10 foot pole.
posted by niles at 2:57 PM on September 19, 2008

150% scam. Were you born yesterday?

Seriously, all you'll get is a link to a fake ebay "Escrow" page and your money missing.
posted by thewalrus at 3:18 PM on September 19, 2008

posted by fish tick at 3:28 PM on September 19, 2008

she suggested the "Business Purchase Protection Program". Google and eBay have never heard of it.

Scam. A person who needs to sell a car like this in a hurry these days goes to CarMax, where you don't get top dollar, but you get roughly dealer trade-in price and it's really convenient for situations like this.
posted by davejay at 3:48 PM on September 19, 2008

google has heard of "business protection purchase protection program"

(although the link its self seems a little dodgy)
posted by traco at 3:50 PM on September 19, 2008

Not to over-simplify, but...

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...it's a duck. Sounds like scam city to me.

Caveat Emptor!
posted by karizma at 4:56 PM on September 19, 2008

escrow+internet purchase=bad idea
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:20 PM on September 19, 2008

this smells like a scam to me. she could sell this car for so much more money and so much less effort. take a look at craigslist. take a look at ebay motors. heck, put your own ad in there and price that vehicle at 10% below blue book and you will be innundated with offers from mechanics, car salespeople, junk yard folks and whatnotelse.

if you really want to take a chance, drive to her (check, not cash!). consider offering to come over with a friend and purchasing the vehicle on the spot. you'll hear excuses galore.
posted by krautland at 5:51 PM on September 19, 2008

posted by HuronBob at 6:13 PM on September 19, 2008

escrow+internet purchase=badgood idea

Fixed that for you. Caveat being, of course, that it only makes sense with large purchases and when using a real, legit escrow company.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:56 PM on September 21, 2008

I know this has already been outed as a scam, niles, but did the would-be scammer ever send you a URL for his "escrow" service? If you were to post it here, through the magic of the Google, the next (possibly less savvy) person who goes looking for background info about scammy-escrow.com might see this thread as the top result and be spared an expensive lesson.
posted by Mayor West at 5:02 AM on September 22, 2008

It is a scam, however..

(sorry for the personal nature of the following, but these are really badly misinformed ideas)
If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

This is a nonsense statement. Too good to be true is completely subjective. It is as useless a truism as "you get what you pay for", and it would be best if people concentrated on real reasons, rather than proverbs.

I can't imagine that a legit escrow charges more than the fees on a full eBay sale.

In my previous experience with escrow.com, I recall charges that were about double paypal, or a little more. However, a quick look at the current escrow.com site reveals a pretty attractive rate -- 3.25%. Maybe my memory is just running up against the $25 minimum.

escrow+internet purchase=bad idea

This is a ridiculous misconception. How many online transactions have you completed?

Anyway, none of that changes the fact that it is a scam.

First, sellers don't list on craigslist from out of state unless they are trying to scam you (buyers from out of state might be legitimate, but sellers are either spamming or scamming, period). Second, this is a highly liquid asset and market value is fairly well established, so it is clear they are baiting you with a too low price (which is different from "if it sounds too good to be true...", and if you can't see why, you probably shouldn't be transacting on the used market with individuals). Third, the terms offered are in no way "fast". You can't simultaneously guarantee a refund, and need the money fast, because the seller might have to cough up the refund! So, there is already a bold-faced lie in the sale listing.
posted by Chuckles at 8:57 PM on September 22, 2008

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