Teen Scammed Out of Thousands of Dollars Buying Car Online

A Lebanon family lost thousands of dollars because they thought they were buying a car through an online service, but it turned out to be a scam, so they are warning about the dangers of buying cars online.

Bryce Johnson, a senior in high school, hoped to drive to college next year in his own ride and this would have been his first set of wheels.

“I thought it was a great value. Didn’t turn out that way,” Bryce said.

He and his dad, Philip, were looking for a vehicle online and came across a Craigslist ad for a 2004 Honda Accord with extremely low mileage. The price was listed at $1,500.

“Maybe we just happened to be lucky,” they thought, Philip said.

They were soon reeled into what the FBI warned is a scam that happens all the time.

Philip contacted the seller, a person using the name "Paula," to hash out the deal.

“It was all through text messages and when I would send a text message, she was quick to respond,” Philip recalled.

Philip said they paid for the car by using $1,500 from Bryce’s college savings.

He loaded the funds onto PayPal My Cash cards, as Paula instructed and gave her his pin number so she could get the money off the card.

PayPal told the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters that you should never do that. They warn “the card should only be used to load funds to your own PayPal account,” which is linked to your bank account.

Shortly thereafter, the seller said she needed them to send another $1,500 for insurance for shipping, but said they would get the money back after the car was delivered. Bryce paid for that with money he saved from working in a restaurant all summer.

“I thought it was fantastic. I was really excited,” he said.

But there were red flags.

Philip said he never spoke to the person selling the car and there was also a problem with the information she had sent about the deal.

“Within 24 hours, I got this email that was titled "eBay Motors," saying your invoice is attached,” Philip said.

The email appearing to be from eBay Motors is from a Dot C-O, not a Dot com. We contacted eBay to verify the transaction number from the purchase invoice and a spokesperson told us they have no record of this transaction.

“And the car just never showed up,” Bryce said.

It was supposed to arrive on Sept. 7.

“Then I started hitting them with a barrage of emails, needing to know where the vehicle was,” Philip said.

They didn’t get a response, and the phone number they had been texting doesn’t exist anymore.

The FBI said, as of 2010, it’s gotten more than 14,000 complaints from people who have been targeted by this kind of scam. They said the victims have collectively lost more than $44 million.

“My confidence in the world of the internet and people outside of my community has been absolutely just shot,” Bryce said.

A few weeks after the Johnson family forked over their $3,000, the ad was back on Craigslist, but it has since been flagged and removed.

Bryce is still holding onto hope that he will somehow get his money back.

“Just pay me back you know,” Bryce said.

A PayPal spokesperson sent a statement saying in part, “They work with law enforcement to track criminals who may misuse PayPal My Cash cards.”

They also said they are looking into the matter.

However, Philip said PayPal representatives told him there isn’t anything they can do for him and asked him to file another claim with a company called InComm, which will work with PayPal, to investigate the matter. He is waiting to hear back.

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