Sunday, February 7, 2010

Oh, to be the son of an oceanographer...

I'm currently trying to sell a car. It's a Holden Commodore wagon, 8 seats, towbar, aircon, all that jazz. It's been well-loved, done quite a few miles, but at $5000 negotiable, it will suit a growing family very nicely.

So. I put it in the classifieds of the local paper. Got a nibble, which might yet turn into a sale. If so, it'll be $18 well spent for the classified ad.

I also put it on an internet car sales site, run by a large Australian newspaper company. In the last nine days since the ad went live, I've had nine enquiries. And they all go something like this:

I am an oceanographer/petroleum engineer/geologist/naval officer, and I'm currently at sea/in Cape Town/out of the country. I would like to offer you $5,300 for your car, which will be a gift for my son/father-in-law/brother/cousin. Unfortunately, I can only pay with Paypal, so if you give me your Paypal email, I'll deposit the money, and then, when you have the money, my agent will come and pick up the car.

How can that possibly be a scam? They put the money in, you take it out, they sign the paperwork and take the car, and it's all sorted, leaving me with something like $500 more than I expected to get for it. So it's their fault if they want to buy a car sight unseen, and in a couple of cases, even arrange to ship it to the UK. Isn't it? How can I get hurt?

Here's how it works. They put the money into your Paypal account using a credit card. Then, when they've picked up the car and driven away, they go to their credit card company and dispute the sale. The credit card company then comes after the seller for the money. (I'm not sure how this bit works, but I'm assured that it does.) So the seller has to return the $5,300, but the car is gone, probably to a chop shop, or has been cannibalised for parts worth more than the car in its whole form, and is henceforth untraceable.

Two things perplex me about this. First, how barefaced these scammers are. One of the nine who contacted me made the original offer without telling me what his 'occupation' was. Wanting to have a bit of fun, I replied by saying that I wouldn't take Paypal, unless it was from someone reputable 'like a geologist, or and oceanographer who is out of town.' He came back ten minutes later with, 'Well yes, as it happens, I am an oceanographer, currently at sea.'

The second perplexing thing is this: if little old me, who is attempting his first ever car sale on the internet, is getting an average of an enquiry a day, there must be others getting the same kind of scammer interest. So if it's so rife, why hasn't the constabulary set up a sting, to nab the 'agent' when he comes to pick up the car? It wouldn't be hard to organise, would it? I'd offer to help in that regard, except I've little interest in pissing off an organised crime outfit.

So be wary. Be warned. Cash or bank cheque only. Or alternatively, leave the car in Evelyn Lane, Kings Cross with the keys in the ignition next Wednesday night. Damn, did I say that out loud?

(For Facebook Notes readers: this post is redirected from my 'head vs desk' blog at


Rob Roy said...

You are the very model of a modern oceanographer,
You've information piscean and nautical and ....

What rhymes with oceanographer?

shannonr said...

Clog wrapper?
Bog paper?
Persian hog butcher?

Anonymous said...

Same thing is happening to me. The guy claims to be a naval officer. Must be the same guy/group. The grammar used in the email is very poor, so im guessing they are not what we would call an Australian. Beware car sellers!!

Anonymous said...

hello, i live in Belgium and someone is sending me e-mails,using your name !!
he is a "petroleum engineer" now on a rig offshore..............he wants to buy my goods as a present for his son; sounds familiar????, so i think its a fraude, can you please let me know if you know anything about this?? because i think i have a problem here !!
please answer this at