I was scammed on eBay, and now I'm stranded out of town.
November 5, 2007 10:33 PM   Subscribe

I flew out-of-state to pick up a car I won on an eBay auction, and the seller didn't show up. Now he's claiming it was in a fender bender today and he can't sell it to me. In the meantime, I'm stranded. Suggestions?

I won a car on an eBay auction. I sent the deposit the seller asked for, and arranged to meet him tonight to pick it up. This required a flight and a taxi ride for me, but it would be cheaper than having it shipped, and I wanted to see it in person before I handed over the check for the full purchase price.

Here's the email correspondence I had with him:

Email 1:

I'm [eBay username] and I won the auction for your [model of car]. The $1000 deposit has already been sent to you via paypal.

I'd like to come pick it up in person. I could be there as early as 4:00 pm on Monday. How does that work with your schedule?


It would have to be later on monday, like past 6:00 pm or wed, because I'm having my wisdom teeth out tuesday. Send me back your phone number so I can call you with a best time to reach you.

Email 2:

I could make it later Monday, but I'm tied up the rest of the week. I sympathize with you on the wisdom teeth--I did that about two years ago. My cell phone number is [xxx-xxx-xxxx], and I can answer it pretty much anytime. I get up about 7:00 your time, and don't go to bed until midnight most nights.

By the way, I would be flying in from New Mexico, so I need to sort this out tonight or pretty early tomorrow morning to get it all set up. If you could call later tonight or before 8:30 tomorrow, that would be great.


It would be great if we could do the deal moday after 6:00 pm, thats when I get back from work. I could get home by 6:30pm

Email 3:

How would 8:00 work for you? I can get a flight that lands at 7:30 and take a taxi to wherever you are.


yeah, that would work. If you could meet me at [street address]. Its a Starbucks within walking distance of my house and right on a main street, so it should be pretty easy for you to find your way back home from there.

Email 4:

Sounds great! I'll see you then. Thanks.


So I took a flight and a taxi, and waited outside Starbucks. No sign of the seller. I called home and had Mater Aletheias check my email. There was only this message from the seller:

I just crashed my motorcycle, so walking will be hard for me. If you could drop me off at my home afterwards, I would appreciate it, It is a straight shot from El Camino.
See you tonight!!!

It was sent several hours earlier. When he was 45 minutes late, I started calling his cell phone, and he wouldn't pick up. My wife sent him an email saying I was waiting outside Starbucks for him, and he sent one that just said "working on it."

Then my wife called me to report this email via Paypal:

[Seller's name and email address] has issued you a full or partial refund for your payment.

This refund will remain pending until the funds have cleared from the sender's account. You will receive an email notification once the funds have become available in your PayPal account. See Refund Details below for more information.

Please do not reply to this email. Email sent to this address cannot be answered.

Message From Seller:
my regrets, the XB was damaged in a fender bender by my sister today. I am hereby refunding your deposit because the car is no longer in the condition represented on ebay.

I emailed again, pointing out that I was now stranded, and that he needed to come by and talk to me in person, but of course there was no response.

Yes, I know I was probably stupid. But what's done is done. I walked to a hotel, and bought a ticket back home tomorrow. So, I'm out two flights, two taxi rides, and a hotel. All in all, about $800. Is there any way to recoup these losses? Any suggestions about what I can do about the situation right now, before I leave town? And does anyone have any experience getting eBay to step into these situations?

I won the car for a really great price, and I'm sure he just didn't want to sell it for that, and came up with this lame excuse to back out.
posted by Pater Aletheias to Law & Government (35 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know... that sucks, for sure, but he didn't seem reluctant to sell it to you. Why assume the worst of the guy without reason? Unfortunately, this was a risk you took knowingly, and I don't think he's responsible for your costs. That's why it's better to buy locally.
posted by loiseau at 10:38 PM on November 5, 2007

Response by poster: The guy knew I had flown across the country to meet him, he didn't even come to the meeting place, which according to him was within walking distance of his home. The refund came an hour after he was supposed to have handed the car over. I have numerous reasons to assume the worst.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:43 PM on November 5, 2007

I think you could probably take him to small claims court. You had a contract to buy the car. He failed to deliver, there by breaching the contract. You had expenses because of your reliance on the contract that he broke. IANAL but it seems like a pretty good argument for some reliance interest to me.
posted by Arbac at 10:46 PM on November 5, 2007

Yep, he needs to pony up at least your costs. Both travel expenses and opportunity costs if you missed work or whatever.
posted by Justinian at 10:51 PM on November 5, 2007

I probably should have included this link on Reliance Damages - "Reliance damages are valued by a party's reliance interest for the foreseeable amount. It puts the injured party in the same dollar position as if the contract never happened."
posted by Arbac at 10:56 PM on November 5, 2007

I don't at all get how it's clear you've been scammed. I understand you're upset about your situation which surely sucks, but I'm not sure I get how this guy is responsible for your decision to potentially buy a car out of your area (a decision which you admit was "probably stupid") and after all you said you wouldn't have even paid for the car had it not met your expectations. You knew leaving the area without a car was a possibility. And to me refunding within an hour is really speedy on his part. If he re-lists it, then you've got reason to believe something's up.

All that being said you seem to be in the US where it seems to be easy to litigate... so go to town. But, like, why don't you ask to see the car just to be sure before you bring down the law on him?
posted by loiseau at 11:02 PM on November 5, 2007

I don't at all get how it's clear you've been scammed.

Whether he was scammed or not shouldn't really be an issue for him getting his travel expenses back. The seller broke the contract. Pater should be entitled to some damages.

Call the seller. Ask to see the damages, maybe the damages are really minor and you'd still want the car? If he won't show it to you, something fishy could be going on, but either way that isn't that important. Ask him to cover part or all of your travel expenses (explaining why you think he should), and if he refuses, file in small claims court. You've got nothing to lose and 800 bucks to gain.
posted by Arbac at 11:12 PM on November 5, 2007

Response by poster: I emailed the seller and told him I would like to see the car, and that I would still take it if it was just a fender bender, and he wouldn't have to have it repaired before trying to sell it again. That was an hour and ten minutes ago. So far, no contact.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:18 PM on November 5, 2007

Unfortunately, PayPal refunds do take a week or two to clear, so that part may not be a scam.

On eBay you, or your wife at home, should be able to request the sellers address if you don't already have it. It's a long shot but you could try to get a hold of him at home, or at least see if the car is parked there and damaged or not. Of course this means more taxi rides.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 11:22 PM on November 5, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, I suspect I will actually get the deposit back. That's not the part that bothers me. I'll see about getting his address. That's an interesting thought.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:28 PM on November 5, 2007

Response by poster: No go on the address. Ebay only gives city, state and phone number.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:30 PM on November 5, 2007

Hmmm, it must have changed in the last few years. That's how I got a hold of a seller in person when I bought a motorcycle off eBay and had trouble contacting the seller due to change of e-mail address. White pages perhaps?
posted by hungrysquirrels at 11:37 PM on November 5, 2007

Sometimes an address is listed in the PayPal transaction detail page.
posted by asterisk at 11:40 PM on November 5, 2007

My suggestion is that you cut your losses and get on the next plane out of there. If you have to spend the night, do it at a motel, not the airport.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:49 PM on November 5, 2007

Why did he want to meet at a Starbucks, away from the car/his house? (Not common, apparently.) It all sounds very suspicious. Best of luck, and, 2nd ikkyu2 and everybody advocating small claims.
posted by kmennie at 12:24 AM on November 6, 2007

reverse phone look-up?
posted by prophetsearcher at 1:57 AM on November 6, 2007

Reverse phone look-up has never worked for me with a cell phone. Is there special service one can use for that?
posted by Coventry at 3:38 AM on November 6, 2007

Technically, he could be held liable for your costs (and it can't hurt to ask) but enforcing that requires going to small claims court in his town, which probably wouldn't be practical.
posted by winston at 4:58 AM on November 6, 2007

Zabasearch his name and take a stroll over to his house for a "friendly" chat.
posted by milarepa at 5:25 AM on November 6, 2007

Response by poster: No luck with Zabasearch, or the local white pages. He's probably still living with his parents. And the last name is too common to narrow down the list without a hit on his first name.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:29 AM on November 6, 2007

Best answer: Once, when my Internet searches didn't yield anything for a contact I was emphatically trying to find, I called 1-800-USS-EARC, which is on the web at ussearch.com. They did yield some useful information. It is, however, a pay service.
posted by WCityMike at 7:33 AM on November 6, 2007

You said you got it for "a really great price," which is probably less than he wanted. Perhaps check the local Craigslist or classified ads where he is to see if he listed it there for a higher price?

Nthing the folks who say your travel and lodging costs are reasonably forseeable damages resulting from your seller's failure to provide the car - especically when you told him you were flying in to town.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:56 AM on November 6, 2007

"I won the car for a really great price, and I'm sure he just didn't want to sell it for that, and came up with this lame excuse to back out."

I'd bet he was being truthful about the M/C accident and has screwed up either his body or his bike to the point he can't ride and so needs his car.

kmennie writes "Why did he want to meet at a Starbucks, away from the car/his house?"

This is pretty common, some people are ultra paranoid about people knowing where they live. Or they don't want to risk having to invite you inside (grow-op). Or they don't want their wife to know they are selling the car.
posted by Mitheral at 9:20 AM on November 6, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, WCityMike. For $9.95 US Search got me his current address. I took a cab out there and saw the car, in perfect condition, just as I expected. Everything about it being in a fender bender was a complete lie. So I went up and knocked on the door. The interesting conversations that happened next almost made the trip worthwhile for entertainment value alone.

But I'm halfway home on and on a layover, so you can guess that it looks like I'm not getting the car. It really was a delight to show up unexpectedly, though, and I'm probably going to get compensation for my travel expenses, which I definitely wouldn't have without an address. So while not a happy ending, it's less bad than it could have been. I say score one for AskMe.

I'll post details, probably late tonight, for the curious.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:31 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wow, what a story - I'd love to hear about the conversation with the seller.

Keep us posted!
posted by MathewS at 4:06 PM on November 6, 2007

Yes, details please!

Have you considered pursuing the matter through ebay as well? I'm sure it's against their auction rules, and maybe you can prevent future people from dealing with this unethical dude.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 7:36 PM on November 6, 2007

dont forget to post the details!
posted by prophetsearcher at 1:31 AM on November 7, 2007

> Thanks, WCityMike. For $9.95 US Search got me his current address. I took a cab out there and saw the car, in perfect condition, just as I expected.

Glad to hear my suggestion helped you crack the case!
posted by WCityMike at 8:22 AM on November 7, 2007

Waiting with bated breath!
posted by Four Flavors at 4:38 PM on November 7, 2007

Response by poster: Okay, sorry I’m later than expected with this. Yesterday was a long day.

The car in question is a Scion xB. For purposes of this story, let’s say the seller’s name was Kevin.

After it was suggested here, I used US Search to find an address for Kevin. There was one hit, and it looked like it was in about the right part of town. So the next morning I took a cab there while on my way to the airport. I figured I would at least look and see if there was a blue xB in front of the house. There wasn’t, so I just told the driver to keep going, but on the very next block there it was—the exact car, parked on the side of the road. It matched the description on eBay perfectly—even little things like scratches on the right front rim. And it was in excellent shape—there had never been a fender bender. I called for the driver to stop and I knocked on the door of the nearest house. An older woman answered. She hadn’t heard of Kevin, and she had never seen that car before. I realized then that he must have parked it away from his own house just in case I tracked him down, so he could keep up the story that it had been in a fender bender. I took pictures of it from every angle to document that it was the same car and in good condition. If I hadn’t traveled just the right route to find it, I would have just gone on to the airport and flown home. Instead, I went right back to Kevin’s house, only taking time to explain to the cab driver why I was behaving so oddly!

When I knocked on the door a middle-aged man answered. I asked if Kevin was there, and he said “No, he’s at the dentist.” (The part about the wisdom teeth was true.) Then I explained why I was there. The man’s name was Bill, and he turned out to be twenty-year-old Kevin’s stepfather. The expression on his face made it clear that (1) this was the first he had heard about the Scion being on eBay and (2) this was exactly the kind of irresponsible stunt he expected from his stepson. He invited me in, and we kept talking. I forwarded all the relevant emails to him, which backed up my story in every detail.

It was a long conversation, and I learned a lot about Kevin and his family, and about his stepdad’s philosophical and theological leanings. What it all boils down to is that young Kevin has been doing whatever the hell he wanted since he was about two years old, and his momma and grandpa are big-time enablers. When Bill called his wife on the phone, she wasn’t mad that Kevin had breached a contract and left an out-of-state buyer stranded. Nope, she was mad at me for having the audacity to expect Kevin to honor the deal. She told Bill that if I was still there when she and Kevin got home, she would call the cops. I said that sounded fine with me, in fact, I’d be happy to call them myself and have them waiting.

She decided cops weren’t such a good idea after all.

Bill said “why don’t you just talk to him yourself?” and handed the phone to me, but when I took it she had hung up. The picture was getting clearer.

Apparently Kevin was selling the car because he thought it would be cool to have a motorcycle instead, but the very first day he had his license, he crashed the thing half a block from his house. The dude rode his bike for about 30 seconds, and then broke his arm. Then he decided he needed the Scion to get to school. I don’t quite get that, because it’s a manual transmission. He’s going to have a heck of a time shifting and driving with one arm in a cast. At any rate, I told Bill that there are a lot of reliable cars Kevin could buy with the money we would get for the Scion.

“Look, if her were my son, you’d get the car. But I learned a long time ago that these things aren’t up to me.”

A bit later I wound up on the phone with Kevin’s grandpa, whose role in the family seems to be paying off whoever needs to be paid off to get Kevin out of trouble. And he’s really good at it. Kevin joined the Army at 18, and before his tour was up decided that the military life just wasn’t for him. Grandpa was apparently helpful in getting him out.

And Gramps is quite a character. Interesting accent. It reminded me of someone I know who is an American but spent a lot of time in England growing up. I think that’s the case with Gramps. He asked me what I wanted.

“I want the car that Kevin agreed to sell me.”

“There is no car for sale.”

“Right. There was a car for sale, and Kevin auctioned it, and I won the auction. Now there’s just a vehicle under legal contact, a buyer with a cashier’s check in hand, and an owner with an obligation to complete the transaction.”

“The car is not for sale.”

We continued in that vein for a while, and I eventually said “if you want to propose an alternative, I’ll listen.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean if you have any other ideas, I’ll listen.”

At this point he said “Please hand me my brains.” I swear I thought I misheard him, but then he said it again, louder. “WILL SOMEONE PLEASE HAND ME MY BRAINS?” Except with the accent the last part was more like “plez hond meh mee bronze?”

He must’ve realized that sounded pretty kooky, so he explained that his memory was poor, and he kept a lot of notebooks nearby with vital information. He called them his “brains.”

“Here, I want you to write down my address. It’s um, let me find it. Here. Oh no, it’s…um…here we go….” And he gave me his address. Well, someone’s address. He didn’t seem too sure.

Grandpa said if I sent him receipts for my flights, hotel and taxis, he would reimburse me. “Then can we make this go away?” I didn’t want to agree. The Scion looked really good, and it should be mine. But it was pretty clear that I was never going to get it, and even if I could get the contract enforced it would take a lot of time and energy. And more money. So I said yes.

Bill and I kept talking theology. He’s a thoughtful agnostic, and since I’m a former atheist turned minister, we had a lot of common ground in our stories. He kept me company while I waited for another cab to pick me up.

In the meantime, Kevin was finished having his wisdom teeth extracted, and he and his mom drove by, but wouldn’t pull into their own driveway as long as I was there. I would just see them every now and then, a middle-aged woman and a 6’ 8” twenty year old with a cast on one arm and a swollen jawline. He had to be miserable, but I guess it was more comfortable to keep driving than to have to talk to me.

Eventually the taxi arrived. I shook hands with Bill and said good-bye. He said “By the way, I know one day this is going to be a sermon illustration. Just do me a favor and don’t use our real names, okay?” (So I haven’t.) “And one other thing. I’m going to be in a lot of trouble with everyone if they think I was nice to you. So if you wind up talking to anyone else in my family, you have to say that I was a complete and total dick to you. Okay?”

“Okay.” Bill had been beaten down, and was trying desperately to play both ends against the middle, but at heart, he was a good sort.

I hopped in the cab and went off to the airport. I’m copying receipts for Gramps, and hopefully I’ll get a big check in a week or two. But for someone interested in family dynamics (and always eager for a good story), it was quite a morning.

And, yeah. Someday it’ll be a sermon illustration. I’m just not yet sure what it illustrates.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:28 PM on November 7, 2007 [22 favorites]

I hope you will get a big check in a few weeks. These people as you've described them don't sound very much like they've earned the right to be trusted.
posted by WCityMike at 4:40 AM on November 8, 2007

I'd like to mark that as a best answer. Thanks for the scoop!

Did you get the money?
posted by Four Flavors at 3:05 PM on November 8, 2007

Bumping this thread--did you get the money?
posted by LarryC at 9:01 PM on February 25, 2008

Yeah, inquiring minds want to know!
posted by Busithoth at 6:54 AM on May 10, 2008

Whoa, just found this thread, and I'd like to know too. Did you ever get that big check?
posted by katillathehun at 8:46 AM on June 20, 2008

« Older Is absinthe a hallucinogenic or not?   |   Birth control blues Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.