An Auckland couple duped out of $12,500 in a car-buying scam doubt they’ll ever see their money again. But they want to warn others of the sting they describe as “amazingly professional”.

The couple, Consumer members who prefer remaining anonymous, saw a late model Toyota Corolla advertised for “urgent sale” on u-sell.co.nz. The owner claimed to be a man named “Allan Hutt” from Wanaka who was selling the car because he was returning to the UK to see a relative with cancer.

But the vehicle didn’t exist and the licence plate number shown in the ad was for someone else’s car.

After the couple paid $12,500 into a UK bank account, Allan called them claiming the transport company moving the car to Auckland required a bond of more than $3000 before it would deliver the vehicle. The request raised alarm bells. The couple discovered they’d been conned and called the police.

The same scam has caught out others. A Fairfax story in September reported a Hamilton couple paying $26,000 for a caravan that didn’t exist. Another couple taken in by a similar ruse lost $25,000. Police Detective Simon Eckersley from the Waikato corporate fraud unit said the scammers were operating offshore, possibly in Russia or eastern Europe.

Consumer adviser Maggie Edwards said the swindle highlights the dangers of buying a vehicle sight unseen. “If you’re buying online, you need to be extremely careful. In this case, the scammer had listed a New Zealand phone number in the ad to make the deal seem authentic. However, it appears the phone was being diverted overseas.”

“We strongly advise never buying a car without getting the vehicle checked out and taking a test drive. If you can’t do this yourself, arrange for someone you trust to inspect the car on your behalf,” she said.

“Walk away from the deal if the seller claims the car isn’t available for viewing. It’s a red flag. The same applies if you’re asked to transfer payment into an overseas bank account. If you lose your money to an overseas scammer, the chances of getting it back are slim to none.”

Buying a car?

Reduce your risk of getting stung by scammers or ending up with a dud buy:

  • Use our free car inspection checklist (108 KB) to check for potential problems.
  • Take the vehicle for a test drive.
  • Get a mechanical inspection.
  • Get a vehicle history report to check whether the car has money owing on it.