HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- For years Tnisha Coles has been leery about buying anything online. Recent car trouble prompted her to try it. She didn’t want to chance driving her four-month-old daughter around in a car that has no heat, no air and engine problems.
Coles tells Problem Solvers she saw a Nissan Maxima on Craigslist and contacted the seller. She said a woman told her she was selling the car through eBay for $1,000. She thought the price was really low and questioned the woman about it.
“She came up with this whole story about her husband dying three months ago. She also said she was leaving because she was in the military and she just wanted to get rid of it. It was just sitting in the garage,” Coles said.
The customer wanted to test drive the car and said the woman, who she thought was on a military base outside of the Richmond area, agreed to ship it. She was required to put up good faith money and sent the funds via eBay gift cards.
Coles explained that the seller told her if she test drove the car, had it inspected and liked it, she would apply the money sent to the purchase. She said she was instructed to load one thousand dollars onto the eBay gift cards, scratch the back of the cards and take a picture of it as well as the receipt. She was also told to inform the seller of where she purchased the gift cards.
In minutes, Coles says she received what she thought was an official eBay invoice with the seller’s name. She said she was surprised to see that it came from a Richmond address. Coles grew concerned when she was asked to send another thousand for insurance. That’s when she worried that it was possibly a scam. Coles said she found a customer service number on the back of the eBay gift cards and reported what was happening to a representative there.
Coles says she was told by that rep that eBay had no record of the car sale and that it was highly likely she was being scammed. The rep advised her to call police. Coles said when she tried to check the balance on the eBay gift cards, the money had already been taken.
Problem Solvers contacted eBay and a spokesperson said the only way to buy a vehicle on their site is by logging onto your eBay account with a user ID/email address and password. One of the following needs to be true: "You were the winning bidder on the auction, you clicked buy it now, or you sent a best offer and the seller accepted it."
A spokesperson encourages customers to read the emails carefully. The phone ones may sound overly formal or have poor grammar, broken English and may be riddled with errors. Emails that are not sent from the ebay.com domain should also send up a red flag.
“We are out here working hard for our money and people are out here scamming and taking it away from us and we’re just stuck. I just want my money back,” Coles added. She said she wanted to share her story so that other consumers would be aware. She doesn’t want anyone else to go through the anxiety and frustration that she went through. She’s now left to figure out how she will get reliable transportation. Losing the money set her back. Now she will struggle to repair the car she has.
The Better Business Bureau’s Barry Moore applauds her for sharing her story. “If people tell you to load up different cards and send it to show your good faith, don't do it. If you do pay, use a credit card. At least most credit cards will give you a certain amount of protection for a few days” Moore explained.
He also suggests when making a significant purchase like this, be sure to meet the seller in person, in a very public place. He recommends near a fire station, police department or a busy shopping center parking lot. Moore suggests test driving the car, getting it inspected and doing your homework.
“If you get people that won’t send the car, won’t come around and want money up front, you’re looking at a scam. It’s very easy to be taken in by a criminal like this, someone skilled at parting you from your hard earned money,” Moore added.
He said reporting the crime to police and the BBB is always the best thing to do. “Let law enforcement know and they’ll try to track it down. Sometimes you can get a criminal off the streets, a scammer off the internet and a bad person out of your life” Moore said.
CBS 6 News contacted someone at the Richmond address that is listed on Coles’ phony invoice. A woman there said she did not know the seller and was unsure why someone would choose her address to put on a phony eBay invoice.
The woman told Problem Solvers that her son was once a victim of a scammer when he tried to buy a car. She didn’t elaborate on when it happened, but said her son lost more than one thousand dollars when he tried to buy a car from someone in Fredericksburg.
CBS 6 contacted Henrico Police and a spokesperson confirmed that Coles did file a report on March 20. He said they will assign the case to an investigator.
CBS 6 Problem Solvers will continue to follow this case and update the story when we hear more from police. Additionally, CBS 6 attempted to contact the woman listed as the seller on Coles’ invoice and did not receive a response.
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