When a Maryland man finally found the dream car he could afford online, he got taken for a ride.
Jerome Harrell’s first car was a 1955 Chevrolet, and years later, he wanted another one. He searched “’55 Chevy” online and found a lot of them, but most of them were too expensive for him, he said.
Then the Vietnam veteran saw one for $3,000.
“I jumped on it because I figured you can't get one for $3,000 nowhere else,” Harrell said. “So I jumped on it, and everything went just fine.”
He said everything looked legitimate. The seller told him she got the car in a divorce settlement, which was why she was selling it at a bargain.
She told him the car would be delivered from West Virginia after he paid using Google Wallet, a service that allows payments to made digitally.
Then he got what looked to him like an official invoice instructing him to pay using a bitcoin ATM, a machine that allows the exchange of cash and bitcoins, the uninsured digital currency created and exchanged anonymously and independent of banks or governments.
“Never heard it before or anything, but we went on the computer and looked at it and it says it's in Wal-mart, so I figured it had to be legit,” Harrell said.
He sent a total of $4,400 to the seller and was told the car would arrive in three days.
“I couldn't even hardly sleep that night because I was excited because the car is going to get here,” he said.
He watched out the window for the delivery all day, but as the hours went by, he realized he’d been scammed.
He emailed the seller, but she didn’t reply.
Google Wallet told him they don’t use bitcoin and confirmed he’d been scammed.
To prevent becoming a victim of such a scam, here are four things to know:
- Be wary of any "too good to be true" deals.
- Make sure you know with whom you are dealing. If the seller only wants to communicate through email, that's a big red flag.
- Scrutinize every message you receive. Scammers work hard to make their emails look official. The one Harrell received had the Google Wallet logo and even came from an email address that looked legitimate at first glance.
- Finally, when making large purchases online, think twice about using bitcoin. Treat the digital currency as cash.
Harrell said he learned an expensive and heartbreaking lesson, and he gave up on the search for another ’55 Chevy.