Your DeLorean, Terrorism, and eBay

By Nate (a law enforcement officer and DeLorean Owner)

9/30/2005 v0

Your DeLorean, Terrorism, and Ebay

Catchy title, huh?  If you care about any of these issues and how they are related, read on.  It is going to be a long post but I think you will find it well worth the effort!

First, let me explain why you should listen to me.  I have experience investigating and prosecuting major frauds, including those involving eBay as they relate to organized crime and terrorism.  I've used this experience in investigations involving several MILLION dollars in fraud loss and I was involved in the September 11th investigations.  I have also bought and sold cars on eBay as an eBay member and have experience now with their buyer protection program.  I have no problem discussing privately what I do for a living; all I ask is that you not discuss it, my name or employer in a public forum that will come up on a Google search.

Like it or not, eBay is here to stay. It is a wonderful tool for the consumer.  The same thing that makes it great for the consumer also makes it ripe for criminals to exploit you. It's a fact; eBay has been used by organized groups to include terrorist organizations to raise significant capital for their operations.  Financial losses due to fraud in the United States number in the BILLIONS of dollars every year.  Estimates of the actual cost to carry out the 9/11 hijackings… the tens of thousands of dollars.  The cost of a couple of cars ended nearly 4,000 lives, and permanently changed millions more.  Large purchases, such as automobiles, aircraft and boats have the biggest return.  The only way to stop this is to know what to look for.  

The DeLorean is coming of age for collectors.  There has been a marked increase in the value of muscle cars from the 60's and 70's as a result of the baby boomer generation being in a position to afford the cars they grew up with. As more "children of the 80's" mature and become more successful, they too will be in a financial position to buy the DeLorean they've wanted since being children, and drive the price up. This will also be combined with an increase in demand being generated by companies such as DeLorean Motor Company of Houston who are marketing the vehicle to a more affluent demographic. The bottom line is DeLoreans will increase significantly in value in the future, making it a bigger target for fraud and more people will become desperate to find one in their price range, and may overlook signs of a fraud to get one.

To beat a fraud, you have to think like a criminal investigator.  An investigator with just a little experience will tell you to TRUST NOTHING A PERSON TELLS YOU!!!  Seek independent verification of statements with facts.  Always assume the person you are dealing with is lying to you and trying to rip you off.

Rule#1 is that if it looks too good to be probably is a rip off. Be wary of the zero feedback sellers, obviously.  A high feedback score does not necessarily mean it isn't a scam.  With the advent of the phishing scheme, account take-overs are common. To combat this, look at the seller's previous items bought and sold.  If the person has a long history of buying knitting supplies and suddenly is selling a DeLorean....WARNING.  Another sign of this is the vehicle not being located near where the eBay seller is listed as living.  

I expressed interest in a vehicle.  When I contacted the seller, they knew little technical info about it, were claiming to now be in Europe and said it was now with a shipping company, prepaid and ready to ship.  They included a link to a website for the "shipping" company that looked legit.  A Google search of that shipping company revealed no such company. The people created a realistic website complete with a section to enter an invoice number so you could look up the status of the vehicle.  I searched that website, which even had links for employment opportunities for drivers.  The rates that drivers were listed as being paid were not consistent with industry practice; another indication the shipping company website was part of an elaborate fraud.

My recommendation is don't sell a vehicle to any entity outside the US. If a buyer or seller has no command of the English language, this is also a warning sign. Look at any correspondence with the person and make sure they have an understanding of the written English language. Insist on getting a telephone number and talk to them! Getting a telephone number also gives you a way to track a person down in the future should it turn into a criminal investigation.  Talk to the person and get a feel for them.  Better yet, have someone you know who has experience dealing with interrogation and interviewing (any cop with a couple of years working the road) talk to the person.  You will be shocked to see what someone with experience in this field will find out.  When establishing a buyer/seller relationship with a person, obtain as much information from that person regarding their identity and their item for sale as possible.  AGAIN, DON’T BELIEVE ANYTHING THEY TELL YOU.  You are using this information to establish their credibility and they may slip with some information they didn’t want you to know.  Continue to ask the same question, just worded a little differently when you correspond with them to look for consistency in their statements.  Then set off on your own to verify their statements and identity. 

Use the public services out there to get as much information as possible.  Run a Carfax report.  This report, in its face is useful in that it will tell you some glaring problems with the car.  Most people will actually not even assume you have done this, so don’t tell them you have.  If they offer to give a Carfax report to you, take it from them, and then continue to run your own report and compare the two.  This goes along with not believing anything they tell you, also don’t believe any evidence they give you.  INDEPENDENT verification is the only way to do this.

A Carfax report can easily be manipulated by the owner in that it relies on the owner’s own reporting as to the mileage of the vehicle.  The owner can easily submit false reports of the mileage as they go to re-register the car, only to run up a huge amount of miles on the vehicle and then replacing the odometer right before selling it.  A great example is of a car I purchased.  I ran the car fax and the car showed approximately 3400 miles placed on the vehicle since its last reporting event four years ago.  The eBay auction listed it as a daily driver and claimed the car went to Tennessee once, Virginia three times and Pennsylvania three times.  Doing the math and it added up to significantly more then 3400 miles.  Now, on a DeLorean, the angle drive that controls the odometer is a 100% failure item due to design flaws, so most cars out there have false odometer readings to some extent.  Also, the odometer rolls back to zero at 99,999 miles, so this was not a deal killer in my opinion, only proof that the seller was being deceptive.

Use Google and zabasearch to run any info about the other party and see if they live near where this vehicle is being sold.  Try to identify their true identity independently.  Any inconsistency should be looked at closely.

Maintain a database on eBay cars to include photos for several months prior to bidding to see if the pictures turn up in some other auction. This also gives you the benefit of seeing the true going rate for vehicles in various conditions and areas.  If you see the same vehicle listed several times by the same seller in a few months period, that car may be ripe for an off eBay offer!

Here's a link to a site that tracks DeLorean VINs going thru eBay (functional as of this writing)

Type the Vin number of the car (or the last 5 in the DeLoreans case) into as many search engines as possible to see previous posts about the car, previous ads that may have been placed, etc.  Look for inconsistencies in statements from that information, to include mileage claims or reports of upgrades or damage that may not have been reported otherwise. For example, I found previous Autotrader adds for my car when I typed in “Delorean” and “6859”.  If you did that now, you would also get hits on my postings on the DML and know ALL of the problems I’ve found. (I knew that when I posted, since I am an honest person, I am taking steps to correct problems with the car and not conceal them)

Look for an email from a person claiming to be the original seller of an item you bid on and lost. My recommendation is to have contacted the seller by email AND by phone prior to the end of the auction. Hold on to that info for later.  A person may contact you stating that the deal fell through and they are offering it to you.  If the email address is different then the email address you previously corresponded with, or they offer a different phone number or no phone number, stay away.  Contact the original email address from the seller and the original winner (from your database) to find out if the car really is still available.  If it is legit, ask both parties of the sale why it fell through and compare answers.

Try to look at the car yourself, in person, or have someone you trust look at it.  There are numerous websites out there to tell you how to spot hidden damage or flaws on a vehicle. This post is just about the human side of this, the deceptive seller.  Have the car looked at for the tell tale signs of abuse or damage.  Talk to the seller and ask plenty of questions.  Many of the frauds out there are with non-existent cars.  So if you see a car and a seller, you are ahead of the curve.

When talking to the seller, be very aware of what they are telling you and what their body language is telling you.  If they refuse to make eye contact with you or break eye contact with you when they are answering an important question, this CAN be a sign of deception (note cultural differences, however).  If a person covers their mouth as they are speaking with you, which is another sign of deception.  Be cognizant of words that the person uses.  If the person states that a car BASICALLY has nothing wrong with it, that person has just told you there IS something wrong with it that they know about, but human psychology being what it is prevents them from overtly lying.  By using the word “Basically” they are triggering an internal coping mechanism that allows them to justify their statement in their own mind. The whole psychology of deception is very advanced and requires a huge amount of training.  Pick up a book on “neuro-linguistic programming” or on the Reid interviewing technique for more on this.  This is why, it may be helpful to enlist the experience of a friend who is in law enforcement to go along with you.  Be aware of strange statements like “So did you run a Carfax report?  It came back OK, right?”  This may indicate the person knows the mileage is false or the title is forged and they are fishing to see how much you know.  Examine everything the person says or does. Even a person who reads this post can’t disguise their body language forever.  They will eventually slip up with repeated questioning.

In any transaction, either as a buyer or seller, I recommend an escrow service. YOU pick the escrow service or insist on a mutually agreed upon service.  Many of these schemes involve the use of phony escrow service and the claim that the other party has some sort of guarantee bond against fraud.  Go to eBay and click the link for their recommended escrow services.  Remember, never trust anything the other party says or gives you, so that extends to clicking on links they send or going to websites they give you to complete a sale.  Stick with the sites YOU know.  If the other party is unwilling to do this, this may be a sign of fraud.

PAYMENT – In the world of laser printers, counterfeit documents abound.  I recommend cash or wire transfers of some type for transactions.  If you take a check, insist on three weeks for funds to clear and allow your bank to have enough time to receive notification that a check is counterfeit and then give them time to notify you.  Most dishonest people are not willing to wait that long.

If a person offers you a check and insists on rushing the transaction WARNING! Especially if they ask you to spend some of your own money to complete the transaction.  A good example is someone asking you to bring a car you are selling to a shipping company and pay the shipping costs.  In turn they will reimburse you for those costs and a little extra for your effort.  You are now out a car AND your own money.

If you are defrauded, good luck getting help.  These investigations are complex and time consuming. Law enforcement is so overwhelmed with these right now, unless you produce an actual suspect or can show an organized enterprise, you may be out of luck.

EBay does offer buyer protection, but be aware; it is VERY NARROW, only covers certain circumstances and is VERY difficult to collect on.  The following is my experience with it:

The program only covers specific areas of the vehicle. Cosmetic, suspension, brake, or items that don't materially affect the performance of the car are not covered.  Items covered include gross misrepresentation resulting in a significant devaluation of the vehicle to include odometer misrepresentation (however they were unwilling to use this avenue as they said that there was no way of proving the extent of the odometer fraud.  Now correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that odometer fraud was designed to conceal the mileage of the vehicle.  They won't cover it because they can't determine the true mileage?). So what is left is damage to the frame NOT caused by rust, significant transmission or engine damage. Here's the catch, these items are only covered if they could not have been discovered during a reasonable inspection.  So follow me, major drive train damage is covered, but only if it is not readily apparent, and only if the car doesn't run properly (seeing the problem here). This may seem like a no win situation, however if you carefully read the policy and articulate why a claim should be covered using language quoted directly from the policy, you can get SOME settlement.  

In my case, I was able to show the transmission problem was an intermittent problem yet still a significant defect, therefore unable to be detected during the initial inspection.  Here is another down side; I give up any legal claim for damages from the seller, even if it is for items not covered under the eBay buyer protection program. So the suspension, electrical, missing engine components, tires, trim, cosmetic damage is not covered nor can I file suit against the seller if I accept the settlement.  All legal claims for the vehicle are assigned to auction insurance agency for them to take whatever action they find necessary. So do your homework before the claim.  They will want estimates from repair facilities and that facility must personally inspect the vehicle (a little difficult in my case.  I found a repair facility that was willing to give an estimate but said they wouldn't do the work). In this situation, auction insurance contacted the DeLorean vendors for input and reached a settlement figure based on the lowest possible estimate.    

Don't get me wrong, the claims adjuster was a great guy and the program is better then nothing.  Had I conducted an off eBay transaction, I wouldn't be getting anything right now.  They are a business that has a responsibility to minimize payouts.  If you articulate your claim correctly, you can maximize that payoff and minimize the pain of an eBay transaction gone sideways. Weigh the benefits of buying through eBay before finding a car on eBay and making an off eBay offer.  You could be giving up a valuable, albeit difficult service.


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