An element of "buyer beware" surrounds anything someone would buy on sites like Craigslist, but a spate of car sale scams in Maryland has authorities worried about a link between them.
Law enforcement officials in Maryland are investigating more than 10 cases in which a person tries to buy a car from someone on the popular classified-ad website, only to find that the seller doesn't actually own the car. It's leaving potential buyers - who turn into victims of the same - out thousands of dollars.
The scam snared Bowie resident Fela Osifade, who thought she was paying a man identifying himself as David Kirkland $12,500 for a Honda Accord she found online. The title he gave her looked real, but it's actually a fake. The car belonged to a loan company and "Kirkland" made off with her cash.
"He sounded very believable," Osifade said. "I can't even begin to put into words how I feel. We saved so much for the car."
The same scam left another person, Traci Brown, out more than $2,500 after a scammer on Craigslist directed her toward a minivan on eBay motors. Brown, who gave birth to triplets recently, thought she was getting just the vehicle she needed.
She didn't, and now not only is Brown upset over losing the money, a host of other problems have been introduced simply by not having the vehicle she thought she was buying.
"I worry how I'm going to get to my doctor's appointments," Brown said. "When you are blessed with children, they become your responsibility to take care.
"I apologize to them frequently because I feel like I've let them down."
Unfortunately, police say these kinds of scams are not uncommon and the scammers can be difficult to catch. That's why authorities urge potential buyers to protect themselves and do due diligence before giving someone any money.
"A buyer should research a seller's criminal history," Prince George's County Police spokesperson Julie Parker said. "You can go online to do that, or you can go through a company which will research the car's history to find out just where the car has been."
Authorities say that a scam can be snuffed out by using some common sense; for instance, if a deal sounds good to be true, it probably is. You should also make sure to verify that a site you're being sent to is authentic and not a fake. A seller who asks for money through Western Union is usually a red flag as well.
Craigslist also warns that sellers who are willing to ship you a vehicle are "virtually 100 percent fraudulent." You can check out more tips on Craigslist.org.