What a car, but the 1965 Chevelle Malibu could only be purchased by using eBay gift cards, my sneaky scammer friend “Lisa Murray” advised…and my (almost) Perfect Victim psychological profile stuttered but kept going when I was informed those cards would have to be purchased with cash.
Okay, so there were more red flags than you could find at a bullfighting convention, all of which I cheerfully ignored and even rationalized until the Moment of Truth arrived. After I finally got the picture and told my wife we wouldn’t be buying the car after all, she exclaimed, “I knew it was a scam but I didn’t dare say anything to you–it would not have ended well!”
Over the years, she’s come to realize it’s best to let me learn my own lessons, a precise mirror image of the way I let her find her own way instead of running my mouth. Which is one of the many explanations of our twenty-one years together (and counting) after my six previous divorces. That said, she lit up in delight when she understood what I intended to buy, so did she really see the problem coming from afar or not? Not that it matters; being a husband who knows better than to argue the point, I’m not going to challenge her statement.
There is a simple reversal of tactics that provides the eBay Gift Card scammer with a form of complex artistry. Rather than calling or emailing to contact whale-sized sucker fish like yours truly (again, “almost”), he gets you to come to him. The way that worked to get me on his 300 lb. test line complete with snelled hook was this:
1. Pam and I’ve long wanted to own an older car, meaning a car with a carburetor instead of fuel injection, guaranteeing no computer issues because there’s no computer in the machine. An older car sets one up to deal with the aftermath of a possible EMP (electromagnetic pulse), one high-altitude EMP strike being capable of wiping out the vast majority of the USA’s digital goodies in one swell foop. This is a real potential threat, one which former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has been concerned about for decades.
2. Additionally, newer cars can be hacked by tech-savvy assassins. While this may sound more than a bit paranoid, we’re all too aware that the former Sheriff of Cochise County, Larry Deaver, was murdered in just such a fashion. Since I knew Larry personally, I took that personally. All of our current vehicles are of the modern era, but that doesn’t mean I have to trust them electronlically.
3. Unfortunately, older cars are now almost universally considered to be “classics” with elevated price tags, at least if you want one you can actually drive.
4. Therefore, I browse. After this eBay gift card scam experience, I do believe I’ll stick with local cars, vehicles that I can go look at within a few hours of home. But last night I was browsing much more widely and came across a brand new listing for a 1965 Chevelle Malibu priced at $6,000 on carsforsale.com.
Since other vehicles similar to this one are going for closer to $30,000, that caught my attention as you might imagine.
Here’s a copy of that listing.
This ad drew me not only because of the ad itself but because I’d just recently become interested specifically in the Chevelle Malibu. Thus I had set myself up psychologically to play the game with the scammer, hook, line, and (almost) sinker. In fact, this post could well be considered a psychological profile of a typical scam victim: Desirous of acquisition, willing to ignore many red flags that should have gotten his attention and capable of inventing fairy tale backstories to explain away many other warnings that do not fit his preconceived expectations.
Red Flag #1: Parts of the listing for the car made no sense, stating that the Chevelle sported a V6 engine, 3.0 liters, and that it had FWD (front wheel drive).
Victim Psychology #1: Front wheel drive cars were unheard of in this country in the sixties, 3.0 liters would only be around 184 cubic inches–far too anemic for reality even for an inline six cylinder of that era–and the V6 didn’t make its debut here until much later. Plus, the engine size would have been listed in cubic inches only. So to explain that in my twisted mind, I decided that this must not be a true Chevelle but only the body, lifted and dropped onto a chassis from the eighties, which also explained the low price–it wasn’t a true classic but only a part of one.
Neat, huh? The scammer’s best friend is the victim’s own dysfunctional mind.
Before going to bed at 3:00 a.m., I emailed the seller, expressing GREAT interest in the car and promising to “call before noon.” During my sleep period, however, I had a lengthy dream with the scammer wherein he explained (via dream state telephone call) that no, the engine was not fuel injected, it was carbureted. (Had a carburetor.) That woke me up, so I got up for the day and called the seller’s telephone number. No answer; it went to voice mail. So I left a message. Minutes later, he texted me back: “If you emailed me I already answered you.”
Okay, time to check the email. Yep, there it was, a very nice email from “Sgt. Lisa Murray.”
The text is too tiny in the image to read without a microscope, so here it is:
Please see more pics attached
I am serving in Offutt A.F.B. in NE and now have been transferred to Elmendorf A.F.B. in Anchorage, Alaska, so I do not need it at this time.
The sale price is $7000 and does include the shipping fees to your home.
I have a clear title free of any liens or loans on it under my name.
If you are interested just reply me.
Sgt Lisa M
Red Flag #2: Lisa Murray is a woman but the seller in my dream definitely was not.
Victim Psychology #2: Hey, it was a dream, right? Maybe she’s just a strong female with more than a dash of testosterone mixed in with her estrogen, right?
Red Flag #3: Nobody owning a classic car would be concerned about selling it just because she was going to be unable to drive it for six months…and by the way, how would any military person know a tour at a particular post would be finished in precisely that amount of time?
Victim Psychology #3: Duh, makes sense to me now; maybe she just needs the cash and never bothered to check how much it was worth, hyuk! Hyuk!
Red Flag #4: Poor English, clearly not written by a native speaker of the language, the most egregious sentence being the one that includes the phrase, “…please reply me.”
Victim Psychology #4: First of all, I didn’t notice that “…please reply me” at all! Secondly, hey, she must be at work and can’t take too much time writing. Obvious.
Note for readers who don’t know me: Overlooking these blazingly bright red flags is not something I normally do, yet somehow (at this point) I was buying the whole story, hook, line, and (almost) sinker. Why? I truly believe that part of this blind behavior on my part did stem from a desire to belive “Sgt. Lisa Murray” was on the up-and-up, but there’s a possible underlying factor that may be a little “too far out” for many of you: As Soul, I’ve occasionally been more than willing to set my human self up for one specific reason or another, totally unconcerned if the consequences might or might not include embarrassment, humiliation, or even close brushes with death. At no point, even after all was said and done and I’d “escaped the noose,” did I have the slightest feeling of having been close to making a big mistake. So was this all something that was “meant to happen,” perhaps partly as learning for me but also so that I would have solid material for this post?
Only Soul knows.
Back to the mundane.
The photos of the car, when downloaded so that they could be seen in all their pristine glory, were gorgeous indeed. The exterior and interior were both straight and clean, not even a rip, tear, or stain in the upholstery. The powerful 396 V8 engine under the hood coupled with an automatic transmission. In retrospect, this is clearly a show quality car and my estimate of its worth at $30,000 is probably on the low side, possibly by a significant margin. Were the pictures stolen from elsewhere on the Internet or has the scammer made so much money at his nefarious trade that these truly are images of a car he owns? These were questions for later; they did not occur to me at the time.
Red Flag #5: This car at the price of $7000 (figure $6000 plus shipping) was way too good to be true.
Victim Psychology #5: Greed entering the game? I’d prefer to think not; I’ve no desire to own a muscle car and wouldn’t even want to endure Pam’s insistence that such a machine be garaged and driven both gently and rarely. More likely, it was my ever dangerous desire to please my woman, seeing the light in her face when she contemplated owning a big block Chevy. Either way, yeah, it sucked me in.
I replied enthusiastically to Lisa’s email: “SOLD!” All we needed to do was work out how “she” would get paid, since the car would be shipped to me.
Then things really went south. “She” (a transgender scammer, perhaps?) emailed me the following:
I recently got promoted and transferred to Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage Alaska for 6 months. I will do my best to walk you through the process.
The car will come with all the necessary papers for registration on your name (right now is located in Omaha, Nebraska, but I advertised it on other states also to get more exposure and sell it faster)
If you want to buy it, we will close the transaction through eBay (you
will have to send money to them, they delivers the car to you and after that they will send me the money)…so I don’t have much to do about it. With eBay, you get free delivery, at your place in 4 to 5 days.
For more info on how it works, I can ask eBay to send you an email with more details on how to buy it. They will contact you shortly, as soon as i have your personal details. This way you also get proof that I am covered by them and a legitimate seller.
If you would like to receive the email from eBay with all the transaction information and to buy the car, please reply with your full name, shipping address and a phone# and i will forward your info to them and they will contact you right away.
Have a nice day
Sgt Lisa M
Hmmm…. Okay, there could be more red flags listed there, for sure, but everything slid right by me. Even the slightly weird bit about “sending” money to eBay didn’t trigger any warnings; I was pretty well hooked and figured maybe “she” simply put it that way to dumb it down for some who–as far as “she” knew at that point–had never dealt with paying for eBay purchases via PayPal or credit card.
However, I did run a search on eBay for “1965 Chevelle Malibu” and got more than 51,000 results–mostly for parts, but a few complete cars showed up at the top of the page.
Red Flag #6: The scammer stated “she” was selling through eBay yet the car could not be found on eBay.
Victim Psychology #6:The lengthy list of results was used by my twisted psyche as an excuse for not finding the car. (Which of course was never listed on eBay in the first place.)
However, the real stink bomb was about to land. Here came the “invoice” from “eBay.” Hang on; it took four screen shots to capture the full page.
There are so many red flags in this “invoice” that I can barely count them now despite not having noticed much more than the fact I was being required (if I wanted the car) to (a) run to the bank to get a chunk of cash, $4,000 “deposit” to be precise, then (b) visit several stores to buy $500 eBay gift cards as “some stores have a limit of two cards per day,” followed by (c) scratching off the cards to expose the 13 digit PINS and (d) emailing the PIN information to “eBay” PLUS (e) taking photographs of the cards and attaching those to the here’s-my-money message.
I never even noticed that the invoice was not from eBay at all but from “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Had my eye not slid right over that, I’d have gotten the picture instantly.
Nor did I stop myself despite “Lisa” telling me at one point that eBay would have the car to me “in three days.” From Omaha, Nebraska, to Deer Lodge, Montana. When I knew from experience that eBay doesn’t handle shipping ever; that’s between buyer and seller. I’m beginning to understand lemmings and the Jonestown folks who drank the Kool Aid.
Yeah, love is blind, and I loved the look of that Chevelle Malibu. Believe it or not, I actually went so far as to drive to Anaconda (25 miles away) to get cash from our bank. As I was leaving, I chatted a bit with a personal banker I’ll call “Sherry” to protect her privacy, telling her some of what I was up to with this fantastic, wonderful, out of this world car purchase.
Sherry saw right through it and tried to warn me, finally saying in so many words, “Fred, I really just don’t have a good feeling about this.”
Having heard enough from this well meaning lady, I informed her, “I didn’t ask for your input.” Then I abruptly got up from the chair in front of her desk and strode out the door, got into my existing car, and drove away, slightly incensed by her mothering.
But that didn’t mean I hadn’t been listening. By the time I’d pulled away from the curb, my gears were clicking on every cog. All the puzzle pieces fell neatly into place. By the time I’d covered a couple of blocks on the way out of town it was crystal clear to me that Sherry had nailed it. I drove straight home, no card-shopping at any stores, and told Pam, “We’re not going to be getting that car.”
“It’s a scam, isn’t it? I knew it but I couldn’t tell you. When you left, I went straight to bed, thinking what is it with these guys in their mid-seventies?”
She was referring to her late stepfather, Jim, who’d fallen hard for one of those classic “Nigerian prince” scams at the age of 76. Since I’ll be 74 next month, I fit right into that “magic idiot” age category.
“I’m no Jim,” I retorted, not huffy but assertive. “We didn’t lose a penny. Didn’t even lose any time, since I had to make a run to the bank before we left on our next Arizona run anyway.”
She agreed and was also mightily relieved, saying “You tell Sherry I love her!”
I promised I would, and I will. Come to think of it, if she reads this, I just did!
To avoid scams, knowing the logical “red flag” triggers in communications wherever finances are involved…yes, that’s essential. But it’s also helpful to understand the psychology of the victim, especially if you might become one.
Once I was (finally) awake after (almost) getting scammed, I got around to doing the due diligence that should have been undertaken much earlier.
Due Diligence #1: A Google search for “eBay gift card scam” turned up the following page. You might consider running that search on your own; some of the links are well worth checking out.
Due Diligence #2: A 411.com search for “Lisa Murray’s” phone number yielded results as well. Note: That number, (707) 401-9538, belongs to a cell phone, most likely a burner phone but who knows, in Cazadero, California. Background check websites stated they had the name of the phone’s owner available. (For money, of course.)
Once my due diligence was done, simply confirming what we already knew, I sent the following email to “Lisa Murray.” We’re both betting “she” (who may be a 300 pound man with a beer gut or an aspiring 20 year old with his eye on a life behind bars for all we know)…well, we’re betting “Lisa” has never gotten a message like this from any other mark in her entire criminal career.
Today, 2:54 PM
Lisa Murray (email@example.com)
Beautiful work you’ve done. The fraud attempt, that is. Of course, you probably didn’t know that what you’ve really accomplished is to provide me with plenty of fodder for the next post to be published on my website. Posts exposing and discussing scams, especially in such detail as this one will have, tend to draw more views over time than all but a handful of my other articles.
Thanks–oh, and do feel free to continue sending me communications if you like; the more I have available to include in my post, the better.
Strangely, “Lisa” has not yet responded to my invitation.