SCM columnist Mike Sheehan was having a fantastic week. He had just sold a customer’s 109-mile Enzo for $1,175,000. The money was in the bank, he had been paid his commission, and all he had to do was meet the new owner for lunch in Los Angeles and help him celebrate.

So Sheehan decided to spend part of the morning checking out cars for sale on the Internet, and pretty soon an eBay listing caught his eye. A 3,650-mile Enzo located in Paris had attracted 26 bids, showing a $611,100 current bid. When he took a closer look at the listing, three things seemed wrong.

First, the listing was No Reserve with an opening bid of $490,000—why would the owner risk a sale that low?

Second, the listing cautioned that, since the car was located in France and there would be a number of bureaucratic hurdles to exporting it, the buyer wouldn’t receive the car for 60 days after buying it. That was pretty scary.

Third and most interesting, it was the Enzo Sheehan had just sold, complete with Sheehan’s very complete set of photos, which had been purloined from his website. It also had the same serial number as Sheehan’s car.

After going through the needlessly difficult procedure required to report the fraudulent listing to eBay security, he was disappointed to receive only a standardized response from their computer. Nonetheless, the listing was pulled down by eBay within 48 hours, with the bid then up to $650,000.

Someone got very lucky; if not for Sheehan, he or she could have lost a whole lot of money.

Ship a Shelby home from Spain

Here’s another one. Recently, an SCM subscriber called and asked what I thought about a 1965 Shelby GT350 listed for sale on the Internet at $9,950. Seems that the wealthy seller lives in Spain and bought the Shelby in the U.S. as a gift for his wife. While the car was being shipped to Spain, he told his wife about it. She refused to drive a car without power steering.

Reluctantly, the seller left the car in its container at the customs dock for several months so he wouldn’t have to pay import duties. He was happy to send the car right back to the good old US of A once the freight forwarding company received payment for the purchase price. The latter was confirmed by the freight forwarding company, which was obviously a co-conspirator.

It wasn’t hard to figure this one for a scam. The ridiculously low selling price made that pretty clear, but there were all sorts of other clues. The whole story was contrived to appear plausible enough as to why the car had to be “sacrificed,” but each component of the story was totally implausible. Consider:

    • What guy would buy a GT350 for his wife?
    • How can one just leave a container parked at the dock for several months?
    • Why would the buyer’s money go to the freight forwarding company?
    • Why would Spanish Customs just let the container get reshipped without any duties paid?
    • Who was going to pay for the shipping?

Never, never send any money

These scams come in all sorts of variations, but there are two telltale signs to look for. One is, when the price is unbelievably low, or the deal is too good to be true, it isn’t a real deal. I don’t for a minute believe the story about the guy who bought a near-new 911 Porsche from a woman for $100 because her husband, who had run off with his girlfriend, called and told her to “just sell the car and send me the money.”

The other sure sign is that these scams always involve getting you to send money somewhere before you actually get the car.

Never, never, ever do that

Don’t part with a dollar until you have the car. If the seller won’t agree to that, insist on using an escrow agent, such as an attorney, to hold the money until the car arrives with proper paperwork. If that isn’t agreeable, forget about it. Don’t let the fear of losing the deal—also known as greed—get the best of you.

And don’t be fooled by a request for just a little bit of money. For example, don’t send the money for the transport fees, even if it is a small amount compared to the purchase price of the car. Usually, the smaller amount is all that the crook is trying to steal from you.

You really have to protect yourself at all times. Collector cars have become very valuable, and the value difference between an ordinary car and an authentic car is substantial. That provides ample incentive and rewards for crooks. Coupled with the international marketplace created by the Internet, scams have never been easier to pull off.

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