2 Investigators: Beware Online Auto Sales Ripoffs

(CBS) — Online marketplaces are a popular way to buy and sell used cars, but scammers may be lurking on those same sites in an attempt to steal your money.

“Maybe I’m getting a good deal, but [it] didn’t dawn on me that I would be taken,” says online vehicle shopper Roman Schleitzer.

After finding a 2000 Jayco RV selling for $2,000 on a website called LetGo, Schleitzer thought he found a good deal.

Schleitzer needed the RV for an upcoming move to help care for his mother. He said the 2000 Jacyco was an answer to his dreams, but it turned out to be a scam.

“They crushed my dreams,” Schleitzer adds.

To pay for the RV, Schleitzer took out a high interest loan to send $2,000 — plus another $1,500 for insurance via MoneyGram to the “seller.”

“Bottom line, it’s going to cost me almost $8,000,” Schleitzer says.

No RV ever came.

To protect yourself from a similar scame, Midwest Regional Director of the Federal Trade Commission Todd Kossow advises consumers to run a picture search of the vehicle you are eyeing.

“Sometimes that’ll tip you off that this is a scam,” Kossow says. “You’ll see that exact same picture of that same vehicle for sale across the country.”

When it comes to online car scams, people selling their cars are targets as well.

That’s what happened to Andrea and Gary Balsavich. They were selling their 1992 Cadillac on Craigslist for $4,500.

They immediately got a bite.

“He told me that he didn’t need to see it,” Gary Balsavich says. “It was the car that he wanted.”

The buyer claimed he was hard of hearing and could only communicate via text messages.

“I’m a good person,” he texted. “I will handle the car well and you won’t regret doing business with me.”

The supposed buyer sent the Balsavich’s a certified check for $4,500 — plus $1,900 for shipping. The buyer told the couple to deposit the check and send $1,900 to the alleged shipper.

This is a major red flag, according to fraud experts.

The check was a fake.

“This check is bad,” Gary Balsavich texted the buyer. “Should I consider this a scam and get the police involved?”

The buyer never responded to the Balsavich’s text messages again.

The FTC says this is another rendition of what is known as fake check scams that have been used for years and in all kinds of ways. Sometimes scammers rip off people looking for jobs online, renting an apartment or selling items.

“The check is so professionally done,” Kossow said. “Neither the consumer nor the bank will be able to see that it is a fraud.”

The red flag, he says, is when someone you are dealing with says they’ll send you a check and they want you to send back a portion.

Under federal regulations, your bank has to make the money available in three days, but that doesn’t mean the check “cleared.” It can take much longer for the bank to learn that the check was fake, and the bank will typically demand that you pay back the money.

FTC records show that automobile scams are perennially a top 10 problem.

“Now I don’t want to trust anybody,” Balsavich says. “I don’t believe anything that people say.”

After the 2 Investigators made inquiries, the Balsavich family’s bank decided to refund the $1,900 they lost.

A spokesperson for LetGo says fraud cases are extremely rare compared to the millions of people using their app each month.

LetGo and Craigslist offer tips to avoid getting scammed.

More from Pam Zekman

Watch & Listen LIVE