Scam artists do their homework to trick even the shrewdest buyer
Gerry Heery from Kingscourt, Co. Cavan thought he had done everything right when it came to helping his daughter choose her next car. He knew there were some risks to buying privately, but he accompanied her to the place to meet the buyer, in Bettystown, Co. Meath and the well-spoken buyer showed them around the car, a 2003 Volkswagen Passat TDi and Gerry was happy to see the tax disc matched the registration, that the NCT was in date and that the vehicle licence certificate was in order. They took a test drive, they haggled and then they did a deal and handed over €4,000 cash to the buyer and were on their way.
But it was only later that evening when Gerry went to look for the receipt, that he had believed that he had been given by the buyer that the alarm bells started to ring in Gerry’s mind. “With all the talk and the dealings with money I forgot to get a receipt and when I called the number that was in the advert later on, there was no answer. I tried it several times and then from my daughter’s phone and then from other telephones and the phone never answered again.”
Gerry then ran the registration through car history website Motorcheck.ie and everything was fine until he tried the chassis number and there was no match. They called the Garda station and the local Gardai ran the vehicle through the system and it showed up as stolen.
The car itself had been stolen from Blanchardstown a few days earlier and was a 2004 model, but was carrying the tax disc, NCT certificate and registration plates of a 2003 Passat.
Car cloning is on the increase as buyers become savvier; the would-be scam artists need to be one step ahead. Operation Swallow, run by the Garda stolen vehicle unit is combating a trend where Irish cars are being stolen, given UK identities and then sold back to unsuspecting Irish buyers looking for a bargain UK import. These cars have V5 forms (the UK equivalent of a Vehicle Registration Certificate) that look right, because in most cases they are right. A batch of stolen V5 forms is still causing havoc and heartache on both sides of the Irish Sea.
This scam is so elaborate, that the cars being sold here in Ireland on UK plates are pretty much identical to cars on forecourts in the UK. Gangs are using HPI checks to legitimately get the chassis numbers of forecourt cars and these are then placed on both the metal and the paperwork of the stolen Irish cars. The Irish buyer won’t realise he has bought a stolen vehicle until he pays the VRT on the car and the UK DVLA receive a V5 form for a car that isn’t sold, never mind in Ireland.
Closer to home and Gerry’s daughter is now without a Passat, which is in Garda custody and no longer hers and they are €4,000 worse off. “I was always weary of something like this happening all my life, and I walked into the trap,” he says, eyes fixed to the ground.
The usual rules still apply to avoid this happening to you. If buying privately, don’t do a cash deal there and then. Pay a deposit, get the car checked out using every means possible and if you can, meet the buyer at their home rather than in a random car park. Plus, why not ask them if you can take a photograph of them with your phone with their vehicle? Most genuine buyers shouldn’t object to either the deposit or the photo.
If they suddenly become very camera shy, then perhaps they have something more to hide than their modesty.