A news story on thisismoney.co.uk caught our eye. It was about a couple who, while on holiday, had 13 eBay buyers turning up at their (empty) property to pick up a VW Transporter each had paid for.
Each buyer had put down £2,000 to £3,000 deposit and were given the couples address to collect it from. Some had driven hundreds of miles to collect the van, others took the train with a view to driving it home. All of these buyers used eBay and, combined, lost £40,000 on the scam.
Not only were the couple on holiday at the time, watching it unfold from their Ring doorbell, they weren’t selling their campervan. In fact, they didn’t even own one!
They had all fallen victim to the most common vehicle fraud in Britain right now – the fake second-hand VW Transporter van scam!
As we all know from the pandemic, fraudsters tap into ‘hot topics’, to take advantage of our good nature or worries. While always popular, there has been a surge in popularity of campervans since the pandemic, with a number of van conversion social media channels with masses of followers, interested in in converting a VW Transporter into a cosy campervan and enjoying a hassle-free getaway. All you need to do is buy a cheap van and do it up, right?
According to Action Fraud, online car scams have increased by 21% since 2019! The campervan novice may find that buying their first van is nothing but stressful without the right advice. And banking regulations aren’t up to speed when it comes to keeping up with scammers, so the safety net is riddled with holes. Even recently NatWest refused to cover a victim’s losses, finding them ‘negligent’, as they hadn’t seen the vehicle first.
How to avoid a van scam
We spoke with Jack Buster, founder of ActionScam, a group that helps victims recoup their money. Jack spent most of his career working in financial services in the UK, Japan and Switzerland, and started scambusting a decade ago. Even following his Facebook group on the day of writing this blog, one 2010 VW Transporter was highlighted as being used in 9 scams!
“I have dealt with thousands of vehicle related scams, with the VW T5 variants being the most common. I would say I have thousands of screenshots of VW T5 scams dating back to 2014!” confirms Jack.
“Google ‘VW T5 scam’ and you’ll get quite a few results! My advice is plain and simple: never pay for a vehicle until you have seen and touched it!
“This is because victims are not covered for anything, of any kind, on any platform – whether on eBay, using PayPal, on Gumtree, Facebook. Not only is there no protection on these platforms, but eBay and Facebook Marketplace are the main sources of vehicle scams.
“If you do decide to pay a deposit, keep it under £100. Scammers often ask for deposits, which tend to be over £1,000, and much higher. They will also try to scam you into increasing it by telling you that ‘somebody else has asked to pay in full right now’, which puts pressure on the victim to match the offer.
“The deposit draws people in and gets them ‘engaged’, or invested, in the purchase. Once the hook is in, via a deposit, the scammer will often push for full payment of the balance.”
Jack advises prospective buyers to ask the seller to do a live Facetime ‘walkaround’ video of the vehicle – insist that the door is opened, and the engine started as a scammer cannot do this!
“If every potential buyer demanded a live video walkaround, scams of this type would drop to near zero!”
We hope it never happens to you. However, if you find yourself a victim of a vehicle scam of £10,000 or more, reach out to Jack Buster at ActionScam. Jack was the first to the market for this specialist type of scam back in 2015, with a 93% success rate in getting money back for vehicle scam victims, working on a No-Win/No-Fee basis (with a low fee).
How to avoid fake van parts
A-Plan Thatcham Schemes expert, Dan Cameron, has years of experience in the camper and van scene, matched by many years insuring them.
“There has always been a cult following for VW vans and campers since the 60’s. The ‘old school’ bay windows and spilt screens have always been a symbol of freedom and exploring – and every VW model since has gained the same cult following.
“Before you commit to a purchase, join an online enthusiasts group. The great thing about these groups is that they do name and shame scams!
“I would also recommend that you attend a large, reputable festival, such as Busfest or Bristol Volksfest. Many may feel they need to own a van to attend, but you don’t. You can simply buy a day ticket and park in the visitors’ car park. You’ll then be able to speak to a huge range of sellers, enthusiasts and experts who have been on the journey you are about to embark on, and more than happy to share their advice.
“You’ll also find plenty of vans for sale at these events – and you can get some real bargains!
“Once you have your van, be aware that there is also a huge scam network of fake parts for sale, which a novice could easily be duped into buying. Scammers know that someone new to the scene will likely want an awning, as an example. They will take an image from anywhere on the internet and use it to list it on eBay, Gumtree or Facebook. It’ll appear to be a great deal; ‘this normally sells £500, but we’ve got our hands on this ex-demo awning for just £300.’ But it just doesn’t exist!”
Dan and his Thatcham Schemes team of experts, and their van ‘Vandromeda’, will be attending up to 20 of the UKs most loved show this year. As enthusiasts themselves, they will be happy to answer any questions you may have about insuring a converted van, or just some helpful tips to point you in the right direction from the outset.