As a keen, amateur overlander I have a tendency to spend more time than is healthy looking at used 4x4 car ads online and one such ad had me quite intrigued to the point where I thought to myself “This is too good to be true”, and as fate would have it, it was.
The advert was for a 2015 Toyota Landcruiser single cab 4x4 with all the bells and whistles for overland travel and exploration. The description was detailed, the photos were impressive but the price was a bit doubtful. P50,000 (about $4,800) was the asking price, which I immediately assumed was a typo and was probably meant to be P500,000. I contacted the seller through the website, saying I was interested but wanted to just confirm the price.
Later that evening I received an email from David and Alicia who apparently work for National Geographic, basically saying how they were filming a documentary in South Africa and had to go back to the UK urgently and wanted to sell the car quickly, hence the low price. The tone of the email itself raised some suspicion already, but I was still intrigued… not so much by the vehicle, but by the sellers themselves. Below is an exert from the email I received:
Sorry for the delayed response but we are in United Kingdom right now and we have been very busy and we cannot use it anymore. We shoot a documentary in South Africa for National Geographic. Tn Alicia's name. We are selling this car at a very cheap price because we moved in UK with our work and we cannot use it anymore, have a contract here and we will return in SA only after 2 years. The car is like new, in perfect conditions, accident free, no scratches, no special marks, no need for additional repairs, always garaged. You can see from the pictures. If you decide to buy the car we will bring it at your home anywhere in SA. We will wait for your email if you are interested and have the funds ready.”
How were they going around South Africa, filming a documentary if the car has “no scratches” and was always garaged? If I decide to buy the car they will deliver it to me, anywhere in South Africa. I’m in Botswana, so will they deliver it to me here? Let’s find out! So I emailed “David and Alicia” back, saying I was really interested and didn’t want the other buyers to beat me to it! I asked again if that was indeed the price and if it can be delivered to Botswana or can we come down to South Africa to see it?
The next reply was where I was convinced this was a scam and here’s why:
“I'm sorry you cannot see the car because we are not in the country and for this reason we must use eBay in order to be safe (my wife is a Power Seller on eBay so we can use their services). We want to use eBay because we are in a country like South Africa and we both know that we can find very bad people here. Sorry to say it because we love this country, but yes, South Africa is not what it used to be.
Note: We want a safe and fair deal so this is the reason we will use eBay. We will have access to your funds only after the car is delivered and you decided to keep the car. Please reply with your details only if you are 100% interested, ready to pay and have the funds available.”
Not only was “David’s” English very suspicious but the complexity of their explanation as to why the vehicle can’t be seen and how you can find “bad people here” infuriated me and made me want to go further with this whole scam and see just how far we would go.
I then asked how they will deliver the vehicle to me if they aren’t in the country and the response was “Delivered with www.uship.com/za after payment is sorted out to eBay.” So I can’t see the car, but it is possible for someone to drive it up to Botswana for me…. once payment has been made? Hmm…
I then used the wonders of the internet to find out more about this “David and Alicia” couple from National Geographic and surprise, surprise, the first Google search result was for a forum called www.scamwarners.com. Ah, so a scam it was, and not the first for “them” it would seem.
Upon browsing through the forum and reading what others had to say about it, it seems that “David and Alicia” are a gang of online scammers that have many different pseudonyms and have been scamming people for 4x4 and camper vans sales all over the world, not just Botswana. As one forum user nicely explained it, “This is the work of an organised gang who deluge the internet with hundreds of fraudulent adverts daily.”
It seems that quite a few people fell for the scam and even lost large sums of money on deposits and what not, only to figure out it was a scam once it was too late. One forum user posted the email that he received regarding a car ad, and it was identical to the one I received. Another user explained how he lost money to the scam: “Hi. I was scammed by the same person and i couldn't get my money back either. He was using the name Brian Crighton (sadly I never found his real name) and we paid him through Google Wallet but he got our money before i found this website.”
The fact is, these groups are persistent, change their details often and do in fact find someone who unknowingly falls for their scam and even get robbed of large sums of money before they even realise they have been scammed. It’s a scam not unlike the emails you get from that one very rich Nigerian prince who needs your help…and bank account… to help him send some money out of his country and in return you get a nice percentage of it… Yeah sure. So if you’re looking for a 4x4 vehicle and come across an ad that looks too good to be true or the communication with the seller gets a bit weird, no matter how “credible” it may all seem (“David and Alicia’s” email even had a full on, detailed signature), then it’s most likely a scam and don’t fall for it! Report it to www.scamwarners.com in the hope that every reported incident (I reported this ad as "spam" to the webmaster of the ad-site I found it on) is a step closer to getting these online car scammers caught or at least discouraged from trying to scam people.
For a full transcript of my email conversation with “David and Alicia”, click here.
"We are a young, married, Botswana-based couple with a passion for going out into nature and the bush any chance we get!"