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ONLINE VEHICLE SALE SCAMS

Online fraudsters often gain trust or sympathy by pretending to be military members about to be deployed. These scammers typically use a military rank or title; will only communicate by email; will offer a used vehicle at far below market value; promise delivery and a refund policy; and request payment by wire transfer or gift cards. They advertise on a variety channels including Facebook, Craigslist, and websites for used vehicles. After the transaction is complete, the criminal ignores all follow-up calls, text messages, or e-mails from the buyer or may demand additional payments. In the end, the vehicle is not delivered and the buyer is never able to recuperate their losses.

An article by the Better Business Bureau (September 24, 2020) explains how these scams work and how to avoid falling for them, and provides resources for victims.

The Public Affairs Office at Malmstrom AFB routinely receives messages asking to verify individuals at Malmstrom allegedly selling vehicles. Fictitious sellers often claim to be sergeants, recently widowed, preparing to leave with a medical team, in training for a deployment, or recently transferred to Montana. They may use email domains that falsely appear to be official including @airforcestaff.us, @staffsergeant.army and @staffsergeant.services. Sellers who could not be matched in the Air Force's worldwide directory of Active Duty, Reserve, Air National Guard and civilian employees include:

  • Patricia Annaf -- [Mercedes Benz SUV, February 2021; BMW 335i, March 2021]
  • Sarah Biazar -- [Nissan Infiniti QX56; BMW 535i; Toyota 4Runner; truck. Multiple complaints in 2019 and 2020]
  • Paula Blackwell -- [Toyota Land Cruiser, November 2020]
  • Olivia Brawn -- [Honda Accord EX, November 2020; John Deere tractor, October 2021]
  • Addison Brown -- [Moving trailer, January 2021. Claims transfer to Air Force Base in Billings; eBay will manage sale]
  • Mary Brown -- [Car; March 2021. Claims to be a staff sergeant, etc. Uses a Great Falls address. Deploying; eBay will manage sale]
  • Maria Brown -- [John Deere tractor, September 2021. Seller uses sergeant rank. Tractor is $1200 and eBay will manage sale]
  • Molly Burnett -- [truck, November 2020; @staffsergeant.army email]
  • Meghan Dalton -- [Diamond enclosed trailer, March 2021. Allegedly works for military and about to go overseas; using eBay to ship]
  • Summer Dawn -- [John Deere Gator, May 2020. Toyota Tacoma truck, November 2020 and September 2021. Claims to be a USAF staff sergeant recently promoted, transferred and busy with deployment]
  • Amanda Dean -- [Kubota tractor, November 2020; @staffsergeant.army email. Fake invoice from ebay@financial-customers-support.com]
  • Lisa Dorrance --  [ATV, October 2020]
  • Katherine Galston -- [travel trailer, June 2019]
  • Jessica Gracie -- [Toyota Tacoma 4WD, October 2021. Claims to be a USAF sergeant busy with deployment.]
  • Donna Grance -- [vehicle, February 2021. Claims to be a sergeant at Air Force base in Billings. Demands $3,000 deposit]
  • Jessica Hanson -- [John Deere 755 tractor. Three complaints in 2020]
  • Gloria Hatfield -- [John Deere Gator 825i, November 2020]
  • Tina Huber -- [New Holland tractor, November 2020. @staffsergeant.services email]
  • Daisy Jensen -- [Toyota Sienna minivan, December 2019. Sewing machine, October 2020]
  • Patricia Mitchell -- [car; November 2020; @staffsergeant.army email]  [Tractor, multiple complaints 2021] More reports.
  • Betty Monroe -- [Toyota truck, June 2020]
  • Nancy Nate -- [Chevrolet Silverado truck, November 2020; @staffsergeant.army email. Fake invoice from ebay@financial-customers-support.com. Silverado truck, April 2021, advertised by "nephew" of "Sgt. Nancy Nate," Gmail email address] More.
  • Lisa Nixon -- [car, June 2020. Tractor, January 2021] More.
  • Amanda Perkins -- [vehicle on Facebook Marketplace, February 2021]
  • Brenda Petersen -- [pop-up camper, October 2020]
  • Maria Peterson -- [vehicle, December 2019]
  • Linda Pfeifer -- [embroidery machine, July 2019]
  • Laura Richardson -- [Honda Accord; car. Multiple complaints in 2019. Complaint in September 2021]
  • Sarah Rutherford -- [Jeep Rubicon; cars. Multiple complaints in 2020]
  • Mary Ann Sambuco -- [GMC Sierra, January 2021; enclosed cargo trailer, April 2021. Claims to be in Billings at Air Force Base]
  • Emily Sanders -- [truck, October 2019; @airforcestaff.us email]
  • Sylvia Schumacher -- [Ford Mustang SVT; Jeep Rubicon; cars. Multiple complaints in 2019 and 2020]
  • Marsha Schuman -- [Nissan Maxima, 2019]
  • Eleanor Skidmore -- [Truck; tractor, March 2021. Seller claims to be a USAF Staff Sergeant at Billings; no match found] More.
  • Angela Smith -- [Kubota tractor, October 2020; John Deere 6x4 UTV, November 2020; @staffsergeant.army email]
  • Molly Stevens -- [UTV side by side, November 2020; @staffsergeant.army email]
  • Natalia Stone -- [Nissan Altima, December 2020. Uses Malmstrom AFB address on fake invoice from ebay@shippingitemsebay.com]
  • Beverly Velez -- [Jeep; Toyota Corolla; Nissan Maxima; Toyota Camry; cars; truck. Multiple complaints in 2020]
  • Daveney Wallace -- [Spartan enclosed trailer, February 2021. Claims to be USAF Staff Sergeant at Billings. Pay with gift cards] More.
  • Betty Wells -- [Jeep Cherokee, December 2020. @staffsergeant.services email]
  • Susan West -- [Embroidery machine, January 2021]
  • Kimberly Wooley -- [Car, June 2021. Seller claims to be leaving for a medical deployment from Malmstrom AFB]

 

Below is an actual message from "Sarah Biazar," a reoccurring scam profile, to a potential buyer in November 2019:

Right now I'm in a military base Malmstrom AFB, Montana. We are training, getting ready for leaving the country. The delivery process will be managed by me. I think I can have it there at your home address within 2 working days. It will come with a clear title and reg. I am a member of the eBay buyer protection program and using this service you will get a 5 days testing period after delivery. During that 5 days testing period I will not be getting any money. I need to know if you are interested so I can ask eBay to send you the details on this deal. If interested just email with your legal name (your right full name 'cause it will appear on the papers), full postal address where you want the car delivered and your cell phone # where you can be reached so we can get the ball rolling.

 

Here is an actual message from "Sylvia Schumacher," another reoccurring scam identity, to a potential buyer in May 2020: 

My name is Sylvia, I'm emailing you about 2004 Jeep Rubicon with an gas engine, automatic transmission and only 74k miles. Never had or need any paint/body work done, garaged keep always, without any mechanical problems, tires and wheels are in great shape as well, electric is working perfectly. The engine on gas, runs very good and the automatic transmission shifts perfectly. Has clean and clear title in my name and there are no liens or loans on it. This car has been used by my husband who died 4 months ago. The price was reduced to $1,200 because I'm in a hurry to find a buyer. I need to sell it before the end of the month, when I will be leaving on military duty with my medical team out of the country for a year and do not want to store it. Hate to sell it but its not worth keeping insurance and paying storage fees for a year. Also, my daughter have another car so there's no use on keeping it. If you are interested reply to email. SGT SYLVIA SCHUMACHER

 

SGT Sarah Biazar, SGT Sylvia Schumacher, SGT Beverly Velez, and SGT Sarah Rutherford are the most common identities our office has received complaints about since 2018.

A Tucson television station investigated in October 2019 and provided a warning to its viewers:
https://kvoa.com/news/n4t-investigators/2019/10/07/n4t-investigators-bbb-warning-about-new-twist-on-old-scam/

More information about this type of scam can be found at:
https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/buying-a-car-online-read-this-first
 

The 'in special training for deployment' scam

This response was forwarded to us in February 2021. The seller once again claims to be readying for deployment with her medical team and suggests that eBay will manage the details of an expensive transaction. The seller promises that the buyer will not have to send payment before inspecting the vehicle. It seems probable that "Online Services" will want access to the buyer's financial account:

Right now I'm at Malmstrom AFB in Montana , doing special training and getting ready for deployment. The vehicle is already at the shipping company here in MT, sealed with all documents inside and ready to be delivered to your place in 2-3 days. As I said in my first email it has a clear title and the price is including the delivery to your address. I decided to make this deal with eBay-Online Services because this way we'll both be protected. By dealing through Online Services we are both covered and nothing wrong can happen with my vehicle or your money. They will handle the shipping, the payment and the papers exchange. You will benefit of free delivery and a 5 day period to test the vehicle . Your money will stay in your possession and you won't release any payment to me until you inspect and accept the vehicle.
If you're interested please reply with your full name and delivery address so I can start the transaction with eBay and ask them to send you the invoice with the terms of the transaction (with no further obligation or fees)   


The transferred sergeant scam

The seller's introductory email describes the vehicle being sold and includes this sentence: "The only reason for selling is that I really don't use it anymore as I do not have time and it deserves a better home, I'm a Sergeant in the Air Force and I was promoted and transferred and I'm very busy with my deployment." Numerous examples can be found online following this template, selling everything from cars to tractors to RTVs
 
Below is an actual follow-up email from a scammer alleging to have just transferred to Montana in May 2020:
 

Hi again I just attached pics and I will do my best to walk you through the process, now I'm here in Billings, Montana, at the Air Force Base. The tractor is already at the eBay warehouse here in Billings along with all the paperwork and the transaction will be done through them. eBay will handle shipping, payment and paper exchange. The tractor is ready to be delivered to your place. I think I can have it there at your home address within 2-3 working days. You will have free shipping and 5 days to test-drive and inspect it before I receive any money. If you are really interested in buying my tractor, please reply with your full name, a full delivery address and a phone #. I will forward this info to eBay and they will contact you with all the info on how to buy it thank you.

There are no Air Force Bases in or near Billings, Montana. There is also not an eBay warehouse in Billings.
 
 
The travel trailer scam
 
This example from March 2021 promises free shipping and a guarantee of satisfaction:
 

Hi again and thank you very much for getting back to me but I would like to clarify some things first. I am selling the trailer at this price because my father passed away not long ago and this trailer  brings me bad memories, another reason for selling it is because I work in the military and right now I'm on a military base. We are training and getting ready to leave the country. The trailer is already at the shipping company ready for delivery because someone agreed to buy it, but in the end he never got the loan (the price was different then). For this reason, the shipping is already paid for. I will use eBay in this transaction for our protection. If you are not aware of this program, you should know that it will allow you to test and inspect the trailer before paying me

 
The boat sale scam
 
Public Affairs was contacted twice in 2020 about a boat advertised online in Pennsylvania and later in Connecticut.:
 

Hello Paul,
Thank you for your interest in my 2006 Grady White 208 Adventure. My name is Maria and let me tell you a few things about the boat. This beautiful 208 Grady white is in amazing condition maintaining an above glossy finish all the way around. Shows minor wear and tear. The interior is in great shape, all the cushions, bolsters, eisenglass, cabin cushions and bimini are all original and well kept. She is equipped with a Yamaha 150 4 stroke with only 115 hours, operating, shifting properly and in great running condition. The trailer will come with the boat and is included in the price.

 I know the price is low ($2,000) and I do have a reason for that. My father recently died, it was his boat and since I don't know how to use it I don't see a reason to keep it. The price is NOT negotiable. Let me know if you are interested.

 I attached some photos with the boat and I can provide more if you want.

 Respectfully,
Staff. Sgt. Maria I Martinelli
Sent from my iPad

The alleged seller (who is not assigned to Malmstrom AFB) then followed up with this reply:

Hello,
Thanks for getting back to me. Before moving forward let me tell you a few things about me. I'm a Staff Sergeant in the US Air Force soon to be deployed overseas. I have little time to make this transaction due to training, so I prearranged the deal with eBay. The boat is with me in Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana and I can have ship it from here for free anywhere in 5 to 7 days depending on the weather and traffic conditions.

Going through eBay will give you 5 days to test and check the boat before I get paid. I think it's only fair since we aren't able to meet and make this transaction the old fashion way. During the test period you can have your local mechanic check the engine and even try that boat on water to make sure that you know what you're buying. The title and bill of sale will come with the boat to make the change of ownership much faster and easier.

If you want to move forward, please email me your Full Name, Shipping Address (street name and number, zip code) and Phone Number so I can notify the eBay that I found a potential buyer. They will contact you by email with all the details and no obligation to buy it.

Waiting for your reply

 
The embroidery machine scam
 
Similarly-worded Craigslist responses from different sellers have been reported to us for sewing and embroidery machines:
 

Thank you very much for getting back to me but I would like to clarify some things first. The machine is located in Malmstrom Air Force Base, MT You can come and inspect it or I can deliver it for free to your location. In this case the transaction will be handled by Ebay because I fully trust their services, which means you will have a 5 day inspection period before committing to buy it. If you're interested to conclude this way please email me your full name and address and I will contact Ebay to open a transaction with them. They will get back to you to explain the entire procedure. Here are the specs. Using this machine you can learn to do embroidery in a few days, practically you can do anything with it and it's fully auto

 

Gift Cards as payment

Scams have become very sophisticated to trick consumers. For example, a fake eBay invoice gives detailed instructions how to buy and redeem gift cards. (Here is another example.) The real eBay website provides tips how you can stay safe and protect yourself from gift card scams:

- Treat your eBay Gift Card redemption code like cash.
- Never give or send your eBay Gift Card code to anyone outside of eBay.com checkout. That's a scam.
- Your eBay Gift Card can only be redeemed at checkout on eBay.com.
- Do not use your gift card to pay anyone outside of the eBay platform.

 

The U.S. Army advises be suspicious of a person who:

- Communicates only via social media or email.
- Doesn't use an email address ending with ".mil". All military members have a ".mil" email address, so there is a high probability that a person is not in the military if they cannot provide one.
- Uses common spelling, grammatical or language errors.

See https://www.army.mil/socialmedia/scams/ for more information about scams perpetuated by imposters impersonating U.S. military members online.


The FBI offers these tips for avoiding fraudulent online vehicle sales:

- If it appears too good to be true, it probably is.
- Use the Internet to research the advertised item and the seller’s name, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, and other unique identifiers.
- Use the Internet to research the company’s contact information and its shipping and payment policies before completing a transaction. Ensure the legitimacy of the contact information and that the company accepts the requested payment option.
- Avoid sellers who refuse to meet in person, or who refuse to allow the buyer to physically inspect the vehicle before the purchase.
- Ask for the vehicle’s VIN, license plate (if possible), and the name of the individual to whom the car is currently registered.
- Criminals take extra effort to disguise themselves and may have recognizable words in their e-mail name or domain. If you are suspicious or unsure about an e-mail that claims to be from a legitimate business, locate the business online and contact them directly.

If you believe you’ve been a victim of this scam, please file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov