Motorhomers beware, online fraud rising
Ask questions, take precautions
With motorhomes being such a high value commodity, they are increasingly becoming the target for fraudsters, using a variety of techniques, whether you are buying or selling. The most common places for buying and selling privately are small adverts in specialist titles like MMM, or online with eBay and Gumtree. The online adverts carry extra risks, either as fraudulent adverts, harbouring viruses, or tempting scammers. For example, a fraud-reporting blogger called Buster Jack listed no fewer than 443 scam adverts on eBay in just 16 days in November. These were largely motorhomes, plus caravans and high-value cars, that were well below market value, either from sellers with no feedback or real-users who had their accounts hacked so it appeared the seller was reputable.
One of the latest scams when selling a motorhome is, when an auction ends or a classified sale is made, to receive an email from PayPal saying payment has been made. The email is fake and while most of the links will go to genuine sources, ones to log into your account are to a phishing website. This is a double-scam. If you don’t check your PayPal balance independently and simply accept that you have been paid, you risk giving the motorhome away without receiving any money. If you click on the links to check your account, you are logging into a fake site and have just given the scammers your PayPal account. The answer here is to open a new browser window and separately log in to PayPal to check your balance. If no payment has arrived, the email notification was from a scammer.
A common ruse when buying is for the seller to copy a genuine advert but then say that the motorhome is in storage somewhere, or on a campsite overseas, and if you want to see it, they will need a deposit or advance. It’s money you will never see again. One of the worst scams pulled in recent times was with a criminal gang that gave the address of a house, which they already knew was empty, met the buyer on the drive, then assaulted the unfortunate person and stole their cash.
We spoke to eBay about online security and a spokesperson has this to say: “Fraudsters use very sophisticated methods to try and emulate trusted websites, which is why it is so important to remember that any transaction not completed on the eBay platform, including a transaction where a customer follows instructions on an email and sends money to a bank account, is not an eBay transaction.
As a pioneer in e-commerce, eBay has developed some of the most effective approaches in combating bad activity over the past two decades. As a result of our efforts, we’ve developed a trust infrastructure that allows us to underwrite the vast majority of transactions on our platform – a guarantee of roughly $55 billion in annual purchases – as part our eBay Money Back Guarantee programme.”
In print or online, scammers may ask for a deposit to secure the sale, then disappear with the money, or they can actually be selling a stolen motorhome. Never pay before seeing and checking both the motorhome and the supposed owner. A cheap motorhome can be made to look like a more expensive model with the application of a few graphics, designed to fool the less-experienced. Another issue to look out for is clocking – where the mileage is reduced to make a motorhome more saleable. Even modern vehicles with digital odometers are not impervious to this, as a laptop and specialised software can access and reset it. A good service history and past MOTs will show whether the motorhome has been well-maintained and if the mileage is likely to be genuine.
If you do buy something on eBay and have concerns afterwards about its authenticity, the eBay spokesperson had this to say, “if a buyer is worried an item may have been stolen, we ask them to look up the item number and the seller's user ID from their purchase history and report it to the police. The police have a direct electronic hotline to eBay, so the investigating officer will get in touch with us and we’ll help them look into it.”
Rather than bolt the gate after the horse has been carried off in an unmarked horse-box, eBay had the following warning signs of fraudulent activity to look out for:
• Ads or sellers who ask for advance payments to reserve a motorhome – fraudsters have no intention of returning your money.
• Sellers who want to move the transaction from one platform to another. For example, from another site to eBay, or from eBay to a private sale.
• Sellers who claim that eBay Vehicle Protection covers a motorhome sale, or tell you to pay eBay who will pay the seller (‘escrow’). There are no services like this at all on eBay in the UK and any claim that we offer this service is fraudulent.
• Sellers who refuse to meet in person, or refuse to allow the buyer to physically inspect the vehicle before the purchase.
One thing is for sure, when advertising a high value item like a motorhome, you are placing yourself in the sights of the scammers. Detective Chief Inspector Perry Stokes, Head of the Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit, said: “Be very suspicious of phone calls, texts or emails asking for personal or financial details, regardless of who they claim to represent. Be aware of the warning signs: your bank will never ask you for your four-digit PIN, to transfer or withdraw money, or to give your card to a courier.”
MAKING CHECKS WHEN BUYING
If buying privately, always make sure you have seen the motorhome at its registered address. Check the V5C form to see that the addresses match up. Also, compare VIN numbers on the motorhome with that on the V5C to make sure they match. If possible, have the owner show their driving licence to confirm identity and address that match up to the ownership document of the ‘van. If they are not the registered owner, then they cannot legally sign the V5C to give you the ownership of the vehicle. Don’t just accept the seller’s word that it is their motorhome. If you buy a stolen motorhome and the police recover it, you will lose all your money.
Do your research into what a model should look like. Go see it, before ever making a purchase, especially of it is an online auction. Get the registration details or chassis number and contact the original manufacturer to confirm they actually made it. This will avoid the problem of rebadging a cheap ‘van with the logo of a more expensive one.
A related problem is cloning, where criminals steal a motorhome and give it a new identity from a similar make and model already on the road. The criminals disguise the17-digit VIN on the stolen motorhome and use a stolen V5/C form to try to legitimise the identity.
You can check the history of a motorhome which includes whether there are any outstanding loans, has ever been written off, reported as stolen, has an accurace valuation or any significant changes by using the AA history check service. A one-off check costs £19.99 or you can buy a block of five checks for £29.99. The RAC offers the same service with one check costing £15.50 but you can also get comprehensive checks from other parties for a lot less – Total Car Check costs just £2.89. The latter example also offers a free check with the Police National Computer that the motorhome isn’t on a register of stolen vehicles. All of these services use part or all of the HPI Check process, which is run by the HPI, and is the most expensive option of all, with one car check costing £19.99 and three costing £29.97.
Senior Consumer Services Manager of HPI Check, Shane Teskey commented, "Today, it's almost impossible to sell a stolen vehicle without changing its identity, which is why cloning remains a very real threat to buyers. Worryingly, many buyers still choose to ignore the warning signs because their heart tells them it's a dream buy. This means they are leaving the door wide open for heartbreak and financial loss. Consumers simply do not realise that if they buy a clone they stand to lose the vehicle and their money. Once a vehicle is revealed as stolen, it will be returned to its rightful owner."
Never turn up at an address to see a motorhome with a large amount of cash in your pocket. View it before buying and if everything checks out agree a sale and get the seller’s bank details. Most banks now use the Faster Payments Service (FPS) system, which has largely replaced CHAPS for payments up to £100,000. Unlike same-day service, CHAPS, which costs £35, FPS is also free for individuals. If the transfer is between two member banks of the FPS scheme, the transfer takes just minutes. If one of the banks isn’t in the scheme it can take longer.
Buying from any private seller carries a lot more risks than from a forecourt dealer and this may well outweigh any savings that could be made. Sales from a dealer are covered under the Sale of Goods Act which states that the motorhome must be:
• Of satisfactory quality
• Fit for purpose
• As described
As well as this, the dealer must have the right to sell the motorhome and is legally obliged to sort out any problems that come up from pre-existing conditions. The caveat to this is that if the dealer pointed out specific problems and you still bought it, they are not liable. Equally, they are not liable for fair wear and tear once you start using the motorhome. It must be fit for purpose though, which is anything that you would reasonably expect to do with it. In the case of a motorhome that includes camping and expecting the electrics, water and gas to work without being connected to a hook up. If there are problems later, it all depends on how much later and the nature of the fault. In the first instance, contact the dealer and if it can’t be resolved amicably then visit AdviceGuide and take legal advice.
Dealers are also covered by the Unfair Trading Regulations which prevents them from giving false information, giving insufficient information, acting aggressively, failing to act in accordance with reasonable expectations of what is acceptable, and the banning of 31 specific practices designed to either give a false impression of the dealer or to pressure the buyer.
There is another safeguard when buying from a dealer who advertised the motorhome online. These are the Distance Selling Regulations that give you the right to cancel your order within seven working days and receive a full refund within 30 days. The details for the motorhome, including delivery arrangements and charges, the dealer’s postal address, need to be very clear as well.
Buying from a private seller carries nothing like the same kind of legal protection. Here the only terms that apply are that the seller must have the right to sell the motorhome, the vehicle should match the description that the seller has given and that the ‘van must be roadworthy. Having an MOT doesn’t guarantee roadworthiness.
One thing to really watch out for is when a dealer pretends to be a private seller, in order to avoid the extra legal protection that you get from dealer sales. Firstly, this is illegal and any dealer behaving like this is likely to be committing other offences as well. If you call about a motorhome and the seller doesn’t immediately know which one you are talking about, or if their name is not on the V5C, then they are likely to be an unscrupulous dealer and you should walk away.
SELLING YOUR MOTORHOME
A motorhome is just like any other vehicle when it comes to selling. You need to sign over the paperwork to ensure that any traffic offences the new owner commits are not laid at your door. You will need the new owner to sign the V5C, along with yourself, which is then sent to the DVLA. If the supposed buyer cannot be there to sign the document and is sending a courier service to collect it and the ‘van, then treat it as fraudulent activity. See the DVLA website for more details.
Selling a high value item such as a motorhome can be a tricky business, just dealing with the financial aspect. Under no circumstances accept cheques, money services and even view PayPal with some caution. If the buyer uses a stolen or fraudulent cheque book, the cheque can still clear if there are sufficient funds in the drawing account, but when the fraud is reported, the money will be claimed back out of your bank account. There are various online money services like Western Union, but these are a favourite of the scammers, so don’t use them at all. Even PayPal is not secure if you are not selling via eBay. If someone offers to pay you through PayPal, as a direct purchase, seek absolute confirmation of their identity. Otherwise, a PayPal payment could be made, the money transferred to your bank and your motorhome handed over, but when it subsequently revealed as a fraudulent transaction, that payment will be revoked and the money taken back out of your account. When selling through eBay and being paid by PayPal you have more protection.
As with buying, the safest method for receiving payment is to use a direct bank transfer with the FPS from the buyer to your bank account. This means the transfer can be made and you can be sure the money has arrived, before you release the motorhome.
If the motorhome is older and has a lower value, you may be offered cash. Be aware that criminals can use this as an opportunity to use fake or counterfeit bank notes. You can buy bank note checker pens for only a few pounds, but for a large volume of cash a better idea is to use an ultra-violet counterfeit detector which can be picked up for as little as £3.90.
The safest option is simply to sell your motorhome to a reputable dealer, but you are likely to get less money for it. Part-exchanging with a dealer is the most secure option of all.
ActionFraud is the UK’s national fraud and internet crime reporting centre. It has a Report Fraud button where you can report any fraudulent activity you encounter, whether buying or selling.
To keep your buying and selling safer, following these tips, courtesy of the Fraud Advisory Panel:
• Protect your computer: keep security software (such as anti-virus and anti-spyware), firewalls and browser up-to-date. Exercise caution when using public computers to make online purchases.
• Research the seller: Check that the seller is reputable by reading online reviews and customer feedback. Check company information on the Companies House website.
• Use strong passwords: Use strong passwords when setting up online accounts by using a combination of letters, numbers and other characters. Change them regularly. Use different passwords for different accounts.
• Review website security: At the Checkout make sure a padlock symbol is displayed in either the bottom right-hand corner of the webpage or in the address bar. The website address should begin with ‘https’.
• Use a credit card: Sign up to Verified by Visa or Mastercard SecureCode for additional security. Consider using a prepaid credit card for smaller purchases.
• Extra precautions for online auction websites: Always use the auction website’s preferred payment methods. Do not make payments directly to a seller’s bank account.
• Keep a record: Record all online purchases and monitor your bank, credit card, and store card statements for unusual transactions.
No-one wants to be the victim of fraud, dodgy dealers, identity theft or scammers, so make sure you take precautions and are as secure as possible. And remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.