He sounded so friendly, his intentions so genuine, and the business emails so official.
But an American man who responded to an online classified ad from a St. John’s woman, expressing interest in buying her car, was actually more interested in stealing her money.
The woman — who didn’t want to publicize her name — came close to getting swindled this past week.
And had it not been for her investigative work beforehand, the man would have succeeded in scamming her out of $700.
“I’ve heard of these things going on, but I never thought it would happen to me,” she said. “I’m just thankful we didn’t go through with it.”
Earlier this week, the woman placed an ad on both Kijiji and NL Classified websites, advertising her and her husband’s Honda Civic. The ad included their cellphone number.
Soon after, they received a text message from a number with the area code 949. The message stated the sender wanted to buy the car.
They discovered the number was based in California.
“We couldn’t figure out why someone in California would want to buy a car in Newfoundland,” she said.
“We were a little suspicious of it, but we’ve had friends who had sold cars elsewhere and had no problem. We figured it didn’t matter if he sends us the money.”
During a telephone conversation with the man, he told the woman that he preferred to use a PayPal account to do the transaction.
“He said it was the safest way to get the money to us,” she said.
It took her a few days for her to get around to setting up the account. All the while, the man continued to text her, asking whether she had set it up.
Once she told him she had, the woman received three “very official looking” emails in her newly created hotmail account. The emails, which were topped with the PayPal logo, stated that the man had transferred the money in the account.
Monday night, he texted the woman to tell her he had transferred the money to the PayPal account, but said he also transferred money to a courier and Western Union.
“He said it was a safety precaution — to make sure we don’t take the money without him getting the car,” she said. “We never used PayPal before, so we were naive.”
She told the man she first wanted to check with PayPal and Western Union before sending any money.
“In my gut, I wanted to make sure the money was actually there in the PayPal account,” she said.
The man tried to dissuade her from doing that, insisting it was a common thing to do.
Nonetheless, the woman did call Western Union. Representatives said they knew nothing about it.
The woman then called PayPal.
When the woman told a representative what happened, she was asked if the so-called PayPal emails went to her junk mail. They had. It was then the representative told the woman it was a scam.
The woman then called police.
Since it was an international case, she said the RNC told her to report it to the anti-theft bureau in Ontario. She plans to call today.
“While I was on the phone with the RNC last night, he was texting us at the same time asking, “Did you wire the money? Did you wire the money?’ I told him we’re on the phone with the police. We never heard from him again.”
The woman later found out the same thing had happened to many other of her friends and co-workers.
“You think, ‘Hey, we’re in Newfoundland. That doesn’t happen here,’ but it does — a lot,” she said.
“That guy could have easily taken $700 if we hadn’t verified it.”
Her advice to the public is to not be too trusting and double check everything first.
“Make sure you have the money before you do any transaction,” she said. “If someone’s not careful, they could easily get scammed.”