A Classified in The Star? Scam Suspicions Confirmed

Two classified ads for used vehicles that appeared in last week’s East Hampton Star were part of a broad pattern of attempted scams that used eBay gift cards and facsimile eBay notifications in an attempt to defraud would-be buyers.

Arthur B. Malman of East Hampton alerted The Star on Monday, as had a reader who spotted the scam in an online post earlier. Mr. Malman said he had responded to an ad in last week’s Star for a 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe K 1500 for $2,000. 

When he called the phone number listed, he was referred to an “aunt who is selling the car of her dead daughter, and will execute the transaction through eBay,” he said by phone on Monday. The scammers use temporary phone numbers that link to answering services.

“I got suspicious when the procedure was to pay with eBay gift cards and the man at the number given had an Eastern European accent,” he told the East Hampton Village Police Department by email, which he shared with The Star.

The instructions he received were in an email formatted to look like it had come from eBay Motors. The email had “a beautiful eBay logo. Smooth operation,” Mr. Malman said yesterday. The seller, he was told, was Amanda Hubert of Omaha, Neb. 

“Payment must be submitted via eBay Gift Cards and they can be purchased with cash at thousands of stores nationwide. You can add only up to $500 into eBay Gift Cards. For your purchase you need to buy 4 X $500 eBay Gift Cards,” the instructions continued.

He was then to photograph the backs of the purchased cards and email images of their pin numbers back to the supposed seller. The email finished with the following warning: “Some stores have their own policy and sell only 2 eBay cards to the same person in 24 hours. Feel free to visit multiple stores and buy as many cards as you need to complete your purchase!”

Mr. Malman said his conversation with the so-called eBay representative quickly raised red flags, particularly when the voice on the other end had a thick accent that sounded Russian. A call placed to the real eBay confirmed Mr. Malman’s suspicion that the entire process was an attempt to defraud him.

Two other attempts to place bogus classified ads were found yesterday by the East Hampton Star staff, and were removed. They were for a piece of heavy equipment made by Bobcat, as well as a skid steerer. Both ads contained generic photographs apparently copied from other sources. 

By searching for similar images online, David E. Rattray, the editor of The Star, found the same photos being used in other newspapers, including a Gannett paper published in New Hampshire. He contacted that paper, he said yesterday, which had already figured out that an attempted scam was underway.

The Tahoe, Mr. Malman said yesterday, “was at a great price.” He also said he would continue his search for a used vehicle, keeping in mind a familiar adage: “If it is too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.”