JULY 15, 2009: Caveat Emptor- The 21st century version. SALEEN MUSTANG S 281 EXTREME



Ryan is a young guy with a young family-he’s a self-employed contractor who has aspirations to join his hometown fire department.


He likes the economic security of a firefighting career -every financial decision he makes has to fall within practical family guidelines.


Except for a 2006 Mustang Saleen S 281 Extreme… 


Ryan spotted one on Autotrader.ca for an asking price of 14,500 Canadian. That’s a fraction of retail (45-55,000) for a 5000-mile car. Ryan emailed the seller for more information. It was the old divorce story (vindictive, angry, motivated ex-wife equals fire sale). Or so it seemed.


Ryan isn’t a naïve guy-he’s seen the 20-20/Dateline car scam stories on TV so he paid 30 bucks for a CARFAX report-everything she told him checked out. The car was sold in California, repossessed with a few thousand miles on the clock, sold again, moved up to Vancouver, BC, Canada and eventually ended up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. This was exactly what she had told him. He asked for more pictures and she emailed a giant portfolio including pictures of the car with Alberta plates and the original California dealer sticker. So far so good.


The seller then set the hook by offering a solution to the “how do I get paid?” question-she offered the “EBay Payment Protection Plan” as a solution. Basically it worked this way: Ryan would send a certified payment to a holding account with a trust company that would keep the funds until both parties were satisfied. She emailed him an invoice (EBay logo and all) detailing the terms of the protection plan: she ships the car and no money exchanges hands for 10 days until buyer is satisfied. Seller also agrees to take the car back at seller’s expense for shipping if it isn’t satisfactory. From Ryan’s point of view she was taking all the risk so, with CARFAX, Auto Trader and EBay apparently involved, he truly believed that he’d won the ‘Specialty Mustang’ lottery.


Until it didn’t show up. She had emailed Ryan to expect delivery at his house on Monday night at 8 pm. 45 minutes went by. Then an hour. Then another hour.


Ryan finally got an answer after several emails when she told him that the car was held up due to a shipping insurance issue with her bank. That’s when he threw the penalty flag and phoned her bank in Florida to crash the deal (bank transfer recall). The manager was very unwilling to help. He told Ryan that his customer told him that Ryan had indeed received the car and the believability edge had gone to his client. It took a big move up the food chain in this Florida based banking chain and a call from the Miami police to get this guy off his “protect the lowlife fraud artist” position.


Ryan also phoned EBay about the protection plan invoice. EBay told him that it didn’t exist and they contacted IC3 (internet fraud investigation).The bank account was immediately frozen. Ryan’s own city police service in Calgary, Alberta told him that they see this about five times a week and it can involve anything from a car to heavy equipment and it’s always done the same way.


Ryan’s case was typical-they’d taken pictures from a legitimate ad (in this case, like most, the real owner had actually tried to sell it earlier this year), done the same CARFAX check, built a divorce story around it and offered this bogus protection plan. Had Ryan waited another hour the 10 days would have been up and he would have been out 15,000 hard-earned dollars.


The worst part about this scam is that even after Ryan phoned Auto Trader to tell them that this ad was fraudulent the same car turned up a week later on Autotrader.ca -3000 bucks cheaper and under a new e mail address. They pulled the ad right after Ryan phoned them again.


The old adage“if it’s too good to be true… blah blah blah” clearly applies here but Ryan tried to be a cautious buyer and practice due diligence even with “buck” (or in this case) “mustang” fever. He relied on brand names like CARFAX, Auto Trader and EBay to protect him-and so did the crooks. None of the name brands technically did anything wrong but with any system there is weakness-predators exploit weakness.


Bottom line “caveat emptor”-sure it’s an older than dirt expression but living in the 21st century doesn’t excuse us from learning an old lesson. Ask Ryan


Jerry Sutherland