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NAPLES, Italy — At first, it seemed as though Stuart Till would not only would sell his cars through classified ads quite conveniently, but also stood to make a nice little profit.

But he wasn’t falling for it.

The day after Till placed ads in Stars and Stripes classifieds to sell his Mercedes 200E and Opel Corsa, his e-mail inbox contained messages from several interested buyers.

But several things about the responses tipped him off that they were not to be trusted.

“Some were written in very poor English with poor spelling, some said [the prospective buyer] was affiliated with the military, but gave no indication where they were stationed, no name, rank or contact number, things like that,” said Till, the site manager for L-3 Communications in Naples.

Some of the e-mails were humorous. One was from a person who purportedly works for a dealership in “West America,” and another from someone who gladly would pay by credit card to have “the goods you are selling” shipped to Nigeria — the goods that clearly are spelled out in the advertisement.

One ironically begged for Till’s trust, reading in part: “i hope i can count on you for my balance I ALSO WANT THIS TO BASE ON TRUST CAN I TRUST YOU? …”

Sellers who place ads on the Internet or in newspapers should heed at least one sound piece of advice, said John Mays, an investigator with the Army’s Criminal Investigative Command’s Special Investigation and Fraud Field Office in Germany:

“The key to this is using common sense,” Mays said. “Buyer beware. That’s what it boils down to. … Meet the buyer in person. Don’t do everything through e-mails. You don’t know who might be on the other end of the e-mail.”

Basically, the car-selling scams that went after Till and others work like this: Someone poses as a buyer, sending an e-mail (sometimes asking for additional information on the items for sale to make them look less obvious), before promising to forward a cashier’s check or money order and asking the seller to ship the car to the buyer’s country.

In Till’s case, he heard from “prospective buyers” from England, Nigeria and the yet-to-be mapped “West America.”

The checks or money orders will eventually bounce, officials said, but it can take a long time. By then, the seller is without a car and out the money.

People who think they have been scammed should forward e-mails to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov, and file a complaint at www.ftc.gov, said Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command.

Suspect a scam?

To report a possible scam or crime, call the Criminal Investigation Command fraud hotline in Europe: DSN 312-375-6669.

Here are a few Web sites that offer consumers information on how to protect themselves or reports and background information on various scams:

Federal Trade Commission:www.ftc.govFirstGov for Consumers: www.consumer.govReport suspicious activity to the FTC by forwarding the suspicious e-mail to: spam@uce.gov

Visit www.ftc.gov/spam to learn other ways to avoid e-mail scams and deal with deceptive spam.

— Stars and Stripes

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