I'm trying to sell my car, and I posted an ad on Kijiji with my cell number. I immediately got a polite text asking me to email a Gmail address with additional photos (I'd put five on the ad). I did and got an email saying she'd buy for the price and pay via PayPal. She said a shipping agent would come by to inspect the car and do the paperwork. There were no obvious clues that it was fake – like a far-fetched sob story or weird grammar. It sounds like a scam, but I don't really get what the scam would be. Would somebody show up and steal my car and then get PayPal to reverse the charges? Should I be worried now that they have my email address and phone number? – Alex, Vancouver
In most scams involving a mysterious overseas buyer and their shipping agent, you'll likely be left waiting for the shipper to come in – after you hand over your own cash.
"Nobody's ever coming to look at it or test drive it – nobody shows up," said Allan Boomhour, spokesman for the Canadian Antifraud Centre (CAFC). "We see these every day. The whole idea is to trick you into sending your own real money."
Here's how it usually works. First, the crook sends you a payment for more than you're asking.
"They say, "we're including the shipping fee' – so if you're asking $5,000, they'll send $6,000," Boomhour said. "Then they ask you to send that difference to the shipper. It varies, it could be Western Union or MoneyGram."
That payment? Whether it's a PayPal notice or a cheque, it's probably fake, Boomhour said.
"You'll get an email that says it's been transferred, but people don't check into their actual PayPal account to see if the money is there, they're just going by that email," Boomhour said. "And with cheques, most banks will clear cheques right off the bat, and then they could be rejected weeks or months later."
If you send money via Western Union or MoneyGram – or even prepaid gift cards – there's no way to get it back, even if you report it to police, Boomhour said.
"Once, it's paid out at the other end, it's cash-in-hand; there's no tracing it," Boomhour said. "Even with prepaid gift cards, once bad guys have those card numbers, they take out the money within a minute."
Could the scammer actually deposit the money into your PayPal account and then get PayPal to reverse the charges? Yes, but that's not as common, Boomhour said.
"Usually there's no money at all but, yes, those scenarios can happen," he said. "[They] can go through the credit card company and try to get the charge back."
Canadians do fall for these scams, Boomhour said. In 2016, 39 people lost, in total, nearly $69,000. So far this year, 9 people have lost over $11,000.
And those are just the cases that have been reported to police. Because the scammers are usually in another country, it can be tough to catch them.
"As soon as it leaves the country, jurisdiction becomes an issue," Boomhour said. "They do occasionally get people. But, like drug dealers, if you arrest one at the corner, the next day there's another one."
When we asked PayPal about the scam, it said in an email, "If something sounds too good to be true – it probably is a scam.
"As with any financial services transactions, we always encourage people to be vigilant and protect themselves against criminals trying to fraudulently transact with them."
So how do you know it's a scam? Well, in "99 per cent" of cases, nobody will pay the full price for a car without seeing it first, Boomhour said.
"You want to deal with people face-to-face," he said. "If you've met in person, a wire transfer into your account is fairly safe, or if it's a certified cheque, you go with them to the bank and make sure it's good. But you have to meet them."
Also, beware of texts asking for your email address. Sites like Kijiji and AutoTrader have systems that send anonymous messages between buyers and potential sellers. They also detect automated scams, Kijiji said.
"Fraudsters will send a fake SMS message requesting to be contacted via email in an effort to stay off the radar, which they can't do if they reply through the secure Kijiji reply system," Kijiji said in an email statement. "[Your] best course of action is to ignore the ploy and block the scammer's phone number and email address, and refrain from clicking any links sent to him via email or text."
To avoid them, don't put your number in the ad, Kijiji said.
So how common are these scams? In a 2013 survey by the Automobile Consumer Coalition, 13 per cent of consumers said they'd been contacted by a buyer who offered to overpay and asked the seller to refund the difference.
We asked Kijiji for the exact number of complaints.
"The incidence of fraud or scams on Kijiji is extremely low," it said. "To put it into perspective, there are millions of new ads and emails exchanged between users on Kijiji in the average week and complaints about suspected fraud among all that communication traffic make up a tiny fraction of a percentage point."
If you've lost money in a scam, contact your local police, Boomhour said.
"If no money is lost, some police services will tell people to contact [us] and won't take a report," Boomhour said.
And there's likely no reason to worry that they have your email address and phone number. To commit ID theft, they'd need information like your social insurance number, driver's licence number and date of birth, Boomhour said.
"You may get more unwanted phone calls or junk emails – but there's nothing you can do about that," Boomhour said.
Have a driving question? Send it to email@example.com. Canada's a big place, so please let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.