AROnline’s Editor doesn’t cop for an eBay scam – but talk amongst the trade suggests there’s a rather unpleasant trend going on right now – and it could affect you…
If you’re currently the owner of a smart, low-mileage classic Austin, Jaguar or Rover and are thinking of selling it, you need to be on your guard. There’s a scam going round at present that’s designed to prey on the vulnerable, and as bullying is quite frankly abhorrent behaviour, here at AROnline we want to make you aware of it.
We’ve first hand experience, too, as it happened to me… The difference is, I thought it was a one-off at the time. However, since talking to some friends in the trade, it seems that’s not necessarily the case, and it’s quite possibly the same group of individuals that are perpetrating it…
Historically, stealing cars to sell on has usually been associated with higher-value models – but it now appears to be going on with lower-value cars, too, and in a way that, while immoral, is just about legal – providing, of course, that you don’t classify preying on vulnerable, old or less streetwise people as ‘crime’. Yes, it’s fair to say I feel very strongly about this one…
About six weeks ago, I sold one of my non BL-ARG classics via the world’s favourite online auction site. I know that eBay has its knockers, but my experiences have generally been okay – describe something honestly, be accommodating and reasonable, and the vast majority of folk are decent, friendly and commit to a deal. I’ve rehomed quite a few of my previous charges this way, and have met some proper car enthusiasts along the way, including one bloke who, via a car transaction, became a bloody good mate who I’ve traded wheels with on two occasions since…
This time, the car in question was a lovely old Volvo 240 Automatic saloon, which I’d picked up earlier this year as it was one of several humdrum, ordinary 1980s and ’90s cars that are on my bucket list. You’ll find no Ferraris or Lamborghinis there – indeed, the closest you’ll probably get is a Fiat Tipo Sedicivalvole – but, for anyone who grew up in the same era as me and was fixated by the cars your mates’ parents drove, you’ll probably understand…
I digress. The Volvo was almost mint, and had covered a mere 57,000 miles from new. With immaculate leather upholstery and a good service history, it was easily worth the £1,350 top bid when the auction closed, especially as these charming old Ovlovs have a cult following these days.
I waited for a day or so after the sale and, once the buyer hadn’t made contact, dropped him an email. He called back almost immediately, suggesting he’d come to collect the car at 8pm the following evening.
8pm came and went, as did 9pm and 10pm. Shortly after 10pm, on a wet, dark and windy evening, my doorbell rang and there, on my doorstep, was a tall, slim, bearded gentleman in a long coat, surrounded by three shorter, stockier types in bomber jackets. They had come for the Volvo, they said, but had decided it wasn’t worth what I was expecting them to pay for it. Indeed, it was – in their view – only worth £350.
This was uncanny, as the car was parked down the side of the house in the pitch black. Without even looking at it in any light, opening the doors or starting the engine, they were already trying to knock the price down by almost three quarters… What was worse, though, was the menacing presence of the buyer’s three henchmen, and the fact he was speaking in such a manner as to suggest I was obliged to sell him the car regardless.
When I politely told him to Foxtrot Oscar, my new friend got a bit tetchy, and suggested he’d wasted his time and journey (he had!) and that I should at least be decent enough to refund his petrol money back to Slough (a round trip of 180 miles) in his late model BMW 745i (not the obvious choice of car for someone buying an inexpensive Volvo!). I declined, and closed the door.
They then appeared to hang around outside the front of the house for a good 10 minutes, continuing to look shifty and menacing – to this day, I’m still not entirely sure why – but, in the end they left, and soon after they had I was relieved to check that my house, the Volvo and my wife’s Discovery didn’t appear to have been harmed, though the henchmen had politely extinguished their fag ends in my flowerbed.
The scary bit, though, is this: when I answered the door, they probably realised there and then that, on this occasion, their little scam wasn’t going to work. A 30-something broad-shouldered amateur rugby player (still sporting a nicely purple black eye from the previous Saturday’s fixture) probably doesn’t fit the usual demographic of an ageing, low-mileage Volvo 240 Automatic owner. Yet even I was unsettled by their presence. Had I been a frail 80-something gent who’d owned the Volvo from new and was ready to hang up his driving gloves, their menacing presence and forthright language could well have been enough to frighten me into handing over the keys and the V5 there and then – and that makes me angry. Very angry indeed, because I despise such behaviour and detest all bullies. Of course, by the time I reported the ‘buyer’ to eBay, his eBay ID had already disappeared along, no doubt, with the fake ID he’d used to create it.
Slightly more concerning, though, is that I’m not convinced this was a one-off. A couple of weeks later, I was having a chinwag with a long-term friend of mine, who buys and sells cars from home as a sideline to his regular business, and who I know has an eye for superb, reasonably priced, low-mileage, on-the-cusp classics. I know this from personal experience, having previously purchased three cars from him, plus another one for a family member.
The same week as I’d ‘sold’ my Volvo, he’d put up on eBay a 1993 Honda Accord 2.0i, with just 22,000 miles on the clock and one elderly owner from new. It ‘went’ for just over a grand, and given the overall condition of the thing, was worth every penny.
Interestingly, though, on the day of ‘collection’ he was visited by four gentlemen in a BMW 7-Series, who arrived late in the evening, offered him £200 for it then called him something unrepeatable when he suggested they might want to point their car back down the A1(M) and stop wasting his time.
If that wasn’t enough, I was speaking to a friend on the phone last week, who told me about an experience his mum had been subject to when selling his deceased father’s Volvo S60 – a newer car, but advertised on eBay as ‘for sale due to bereavement’ (tip: don’t ever say this in a listing as it attracts chancers like flies to dog poo…). While they’re based in a different part of the UK, their story was very similar – a group turned up to collect it, offered less than half the agreed price, then hung around menacingly after being told no. Luckily, my mate made sure he was with his mum at the time of the proposed sale and was able to protect her from falling victim to this despicable scam, which preys on the people who deserve and need it least.
The moral here, then, is to have your wits about you at all times when selling a car, and ideally have someone with you when the new ‘owner’ comes to collect it. Or more importantly, if you have an elderly or vulnerable relative or friend who’s selling a car, make sure you’re there to support them and help them out through the process – show a little human kindness, and let’s not let these scumbags get away with it.
There is a bit of a happy ending in all this, from my perspective at least. After Shifty and his henchmen made good their escape, I made contact with the second highest bidder on the Volvo, who turned out to be a charming and witty professional musician, based in Scotland. A week later, we met in the car park of Luton Airport, a very polite and friendly exchange took place for a slightly lower purchase price, and he drove off into the sunset, restoring some of my faith in human nature into the bargain…