A classified advertisement for a car placed in The Times has caused a nightmare for an Edgartown woman.
Lucia de Souza, a housekeeper, had recently returned from visiting family in Brazil, and was looking to purchase a car. She responded to an auto sales ad in the March 22 edition of the newspaper for a 2005 Honda Civic that was listed for $2,200.
When she first called the phone number, no one answered.
A few moments later, De Souza received a text message from the number saying, “Hello! I am in the hospital right now, if you are still interested about my 2005 Honda Accord Hybrid ($2,200) Please contact my Aunt at this email address: RobertaAdams848@gmail.com.”
De Souza sent an email expressing interest in purchasing the car, and giving her name and phone number. In the email thread, the person posing as Adams asked de Souza when the payment would be ready, repeatedly claiming another buyer was ready to purchase the car. Adams’ emails also included a U.S. Air Force logo at the bottom of each message.
De Souza bartered the price down to $1,800, which Adams accepted. Adams then mentioned the car was listed on eBay, and de Souza would have to purchase via the eBay website. “It didn’t seem strange, because I’ve purchased a lot on eBay,” De Souza said. The classified ad in The Times also made De Souza feel like the listing was legitimate.
After being alerted to the scam, The Times removed the ad from its website.
De Souza planned to pay with her credit card, but received a fake email from email@example.com, complete with an invoice and instructions on how to pay. The invoice, designed to look like an official eBay document, contained specific instructions, saying, “Payment must be submitted via eBay cards and can be purchased with cash at thousands of stores nationwide.” The email included a phone number to call for customer support, pictures of which cards to buy, and directions to email the code on the cards.
De Souza then purchased four eBay gift cards, totaling $1,800, and called the customer service number listed on the fake email. A man answered the phone posing as a customer service representative and said de Souza could just read the gift card codes and PIN numbers to him, which she did. She even received an email confirming her payment, saying the car would be delivered on Monday, April 2.
“We are not requiring our members to pay with a gift card,” Aila, a customer service representative at eBay who did not give her full name due to company policy, said. “We recommend to pay with PayPal or debit and credit cards. We are not obliging them to pay in eBay gift cards. It is best to call eBay customer service to confirm if it’s a legitimate eBay transaction.”
A day later de Souza got an email from the fake eBay customer service account again, saying there was a problem processing her payment and she would have to pay a “refundable” $1,000 for insurance during shipment. De Souza purchased another $1,000 worth of gift cards and sent the codes over the phone again.
Once the weekend ended and Monday arrived, de Souza was eager to get her car, but nothing came. No car, no email, and no phone call.
“I was scared and worried because I didn’t hear from them. Nobody responded to me. I called the number in the newspaper and no answer. I left a message. I called the eBay number they gave me, and the phone wasn’t connected. I said, ‘Oh my God, I’m in trouble, all my money is gone,’” De Souza said.
After emailing Adams, calling the customer service representative, and calling the numbers they had given her only to find dead connections and no responses, dDe Souza called her friend Marjory Potts, for whom she has worked for over 25 years, for help.
The two women spent three hours on the official eBay website before realizing no listing was on the website, and that she had most likely been a victim of a scam. The gift cards had not been cashed or added to any eBay account, so eBay froze the cards. EBay customer service told De Souza she would most likely get her money back, but it would take five to seven days to process the refund.
Potts plans to continue helping her friend by contacting the FBI about the scam and its impersonation of military personnel. “I hope they get caught; I don’t know if they ever will,” Potts said.
De Souza said she hopes she will get her money back. The fake invoice seemed real because of its design, she said.
“I was not thinking about that,” de Souza said of any potential red flags from the ordeal. “The motor is gone in my car. I wanted to purchase a car. It was a car that I could afford.”
The Times attempted to call the number on the fake eBay invoice, but the number was no longer in service. When trying to call the phone number listed on the original classified ad, The Times’ call was directed to voicemail for a Text Now subscriber. Text Now is a mobile cell phone service provider that does not require a contract.