We encountered a scammer this week and I feel it my citizenly duty to illustrate borderline gullability in action.
This scam involved buying a second-hand car, which is a pretty "scammy" area, but there are certain safeguards for the novice. You have to know nothing about cars and you have to ask probing questions like "will you fix that rattle", and when the car salesman says 'sure', you're supposed to believe them. But at least it happens live, in 3D.
This scam beckoned online (another "scammy" area) within the heavily populated world of hopes and dreams that is the used car sale lists, where searches typically begin. You email, sellers get back and then you move out into the field to investigate/confirm how little you know about cars. It's also where you confirm that in the current COVID-19 world, small cars under $6000 are hard to find. According to several dealers we spoke to, the shortage stems from the ability of people to draw $10k out of their super. Instead of panic buying toilet paper, they're snapping up zippy little city cars. Believe it or not. The fact private sellers were not responding to our email inquiries too suggested I should believe, a bit. Thus supply-demand factors added an extra tension to our search.
"Damn", or should that be "scam"? There's always a snag with too good to be true. As if sensing our caution, "X" provided a big story about being in the Forces and being deployed to New Zealand (finally we're going to invade) and how he needs to sell his car rather than garage it.
Semi-plausible. There is a base in Devonport (we checked), he sent a picture of himself (someone) with his (someone's) licence and address (which we checked), and it was all laid out in pretty good English. Honestly, our head said no, but our heart said we should have annexed NZ years ago.
If we were interested in the car, he could ship it up at the Forces' expense and we could check it out - no obligation. WOW! I knew Defence spending had gone up, but didn't realise why. All we had to do was pay our money in advance to an online third party called "Escrow.com" (no doubt a military site of the utmost credibility). We were at a parable-style fork in the road because escrow.com does exist (we checked), but it seemed like an American-style credit thing. This would have made more sense if the Forces were shipping the car free for, say, General MacArthur. But an Aussie grunt? Hmm. And that whole money in advance thing. You never do that, right? Unless contacted from overseas about an inheritance.
Further digging revealed "Person X" has featured in various guises on Scam Alert but we sent the money anyhow. We just so wanted to believe. And we'd never tell if ripped off because, you know, how embarrassing. Just kidding. We ran for the hills as they say online, a lot (we checked). It wasn't like we could drive, now that we weren't getting the car.