Support our mission

DARMSTADT, Germany — Strange that a man in Africa would want to buy a 1997 735iL BMW listed on an American car sale Web site in Germany.

It’s a nice car, but is it really worth international shipping costs, plus all the hassle associated with selling a U.S. Army Europe-plated car to a man in Africa?

Costa Bright, the potential buyer from Africa, said it sure was worth it and it would be hassle-free.

In several personal e-mails, Bright asked the seller to save him the car and he would take care of everything else. He would send an international money order from the Barclays Bank and not take any action until the check cleared. Then, he would fly over personal shippers to whisk the car off to Africa.

Wow, that does sound easy.

But then a man in Portugal sent a near identical e-mail — very personal and expressing super interest in the car.

Now that’s weird, two international buyers willing to spend $12,000 on an older BMW. Something’s not right.

For peace of mind, a quick call was made to Paul Gregory, the Web master running car sales from his Web site.

Gregory immediately put on the brakes.

“Don’t do it. It’s a scam,” Gregory warned over the phone Monday.

He said that though it all sounds legit, it’s actually a con artist preying on Web car sale ads.

USAREUR law enforcement officials recently sent out a warning to sellers to beware of scammers. Cases have been reported in Mannheim, Stuttgart and Frankfurt, Germany.

Lt. Col. Carol A. McKinney, chief of Law Enforcement Operations at the USAREUR Office of the Provost Marshal, said this is how it works: Someone poses as a buyer, often by e-mail from a far-off country, and forwards a cashier’s check for more than the asking price.

The buyer wants the seller to ship the car to his country, giving the excuse that the extra cash is for shipping and asking the seller to wire any excess amount back to him via a money transfer agency, McKinney said in a statement.

The check will eventually bounce, but this can take a long time. The scam takes advantage of a rule which forces banks to clear a cashier’s check within five days although they don’t necessarily verify the check in that time.

The seller is then stuck with a bounced check and, in extreme cases, no car, plus the additional cost of extra shipping charges to the untraceable buyer in a land far, far away.

One seller said she knew she was being scammed, but decided to pursue the sale to expose the con artists.

Michelle Gerbozy, of the Wiesbaden community, received two checks from cars listed on the Portal Germany site and in the Stars and Stripes classified section.

She received one check for $10,000 and the other for $6,500, the asking price of the car.

“I knew the offer was bogus, but I just wanted to see how it was done,” Gerbozy said by telephone Wednesday. She said she contacted the bank and found that routing numbers had been altered and that accounts simply didn’t exist.

The last check she received was “comical,” she said, with lopsided scissor cuts and different names listed on the document.

“I took the check and showed all my friends and husband’s co-workers. I’m worried some soldiers will fall victim to this, by just not thinking, and thinking this is an easy way to get rid of the car,” Gerbozy said.

“They’re taking advantage of the military because they know many times we have to get rid of second cars when we leave. They make it seem easy and are just trying to get you to cash the check and send them some money back.”

Gregory has posted a warning about scammers on his Web site, and said he is listing the fraudulent Internet Service Provider addresses.

“No one on Portal Germany will get scammed,” Gregory said in an e-mail message Monday to Stars and Stripes.

McKinney said the best tactic sellers can take is to be wary of offers that sound too good to be true.

“Just look for clues that maybe this isn’t legit. Use your good common sense,” she said during a phone interview.


Stripes in 7

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up