Selling your car?

A cautionary tale about knowing whom you're dealing with

Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 8:21 a.m.

I was cautiously optimistic when I received a text from a guy wanting to buy my used car. John had seen my ad on Auto Trader, a favored auto listing site that I've used before.

“Am interested in your vehicle on Auto Trader,” John texted from number 650-653-XXXX. “If still available, reply to my email with the engine pics or video. John”

What luck, right? I was selling my BMW 330Xi privately, which would get me an extra $2,000 over a trade-in.

His email address was suspect — a '123' sometimes means scam. And I traced the number he was texting from to a tracphone — the same pay-by-the-minute kind often favored by inmates nationwide. But I sent him an email, inviting John to see the car.

He responded right away. Here's his verbatim reply:

“Thank you for getting back to me, can you assure me that i will not be disappointed if i buy this Vehicle as a Birthday gift for my Dad? as I'm ready to pay your asking price but not cash in person because

I'm an Oceanographer and i am presently on a contract which will end in couple of months, the contract is strictly no call due to the lack of reception on the sea area, but I'm able to access my mail through my laptop and my only quickest payment option is PayPal. I hope we can make the purchase as fast as possible? as my Dad's birthday is fast approaching, am sure he will love this vehicle, hes a mechanic and a handy man, so if there is anything that need to be fixed in it just let me know he will handle it. I have a mover that will come for the pick up once payment clears in your account and he will handle the title for me.”

I did some checks online and found this message, verbatim, had been used in an attempted swindle before. There are a few ways he can swindle an unaware seller. The most obvious is simply to take the money and disappear. After all, a tracphone and no physical address makes it easy.

Websites like, though, do a good job at outing shady characters. I can go to that site right now and see three people John contacted via the same number. Other numbers connected to his enterprise posed as a soldier in Pennsylvania wanting to buy a vehicle for his son.

But I had to know more.

Over the weeks after I posted the ad on Auto Trader, and Craigslist, I received a number of overtures, none of them serious. One guy offering me $3,000 below what I advertised it at.

And John, who I was now intent on playing along with.

So I sent him another email.

“Due to this rather unique payment, I just want to do my own due diligence on its feasibility - Best , Steve P.S. Who are you an oceanographer for? Fascinating job. Where are you right now?”

He came back the next day: “Am in CA right now.”

I was fielding the aforementioned non-serious calls on the car and I realized that it was taking more time than I wanted to spend selling this used car. I was resigned to trade-in. But I still had John.

I sent him another note, advising him that his number went to a tracphone and that “I like to know who I'm doing business with. I'm sure you understand that no one should do business blindly.”

“You can try and contact me on this 310-XXX-6650 (number changed here),” John emailed back, “but if there (sic) a bad connection at the area I am, there will be a problem receiving it. or u can send me a text on the other line. do let me have your paypal email and the firm price so that i can proceed with the payment asap. Thank you”

I called the 310 number several times, with no answer and no answering machine. The number traced to a Compton, Calif. address in a rather rough neighborhood. Not the place oceanographers tend to live.

It was over for John.

“Lenora Smith (I've changed the name here) in Compton is your mom? Just to confirm, what is that address?” I emailed. That was the person the number linked to, a landline.

That was the end of his interest in my used car.

The lesson is that selling a car even on a reputable site like Auto Trader is bound to get responses from losers looking to take your money and your goods.

It makes me yearn for a good old-fashioned, honest used car dealer. Preferably one wearing a clip-on tie with a short-sleeved white shirt.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top

Find Us on Facebook