Too Good to Be True

Don’t spot deliver a car unless you’ve considered all the signs of potential fraud. - IMAGE: Jay Lamping via Pixabay.com

Don’t spot deliver a car unless you’ve considered all the signs of potential fraud.

IMAGE: Jay Lamping via Pixabay.com

May this serve as a cautionary tale.

Run away from this deal – it drips with red flags.

Twenty-five years ago, the widowed mother of a close friend died, leaving my friend the 100-year-old Chickering grand piano she had grown up playing. My friend had no room for the piano in her current home; my wife and I did. So, we agreed to store the piano in our living room until one of her children stepped up to claim it.

Twenty-five years passed. None of her children ever stepped up to claim it. The Chickering piano spent 25 years holding framed portraits of our children and a nativity scene around Christmas. Then my own parents moved out of our family home, and I came into possession of the 100-year-old Steinway grand piano I had grown up playing. Time to move the Chickering.

By now, the friend/owner of the piano and her husband had sold their house up the street and moved to a smaller home on the water. Return of that piano was a non-starter so, with their permission, I listed the instrument for sale on Craigslist.

Almost immediately, a woman who called herself “Sadie” responded, offering to purchase the piano for full price, sight unseen. She promised a cashier’s check and the contact information of the company that would move the piano.

The cashier’s check arrived. I deposited the check. The check included the price of the piano and the cost of shipping it. I connected with the mover to arrange pick-up. I transferred the cost of moving the beast to the mover. 

And then… everyone stopped answering my text messages or phone calls. And things got worse in a hurry.

The next morning my bank called. The cashier’s check had been returned and now we were overdrawn. How could a cashier’s check drawn on a major money center bank be returned, you might ask? I certainly did. “Because it was counterfeit” was the answer. 

Who’s on the hook for the loss in such a situation? Turns out it’s me.

I trusted someone I did not know, from a different state, using a piano mover that was not a company but a person whom I did not vet, and I did not wait for the tendered form of payment to finally clear.

But wait – there’s more. If you look into the Craigslist site, you’ll discover that there is an explicit warning against this precise scam. Had I read it, I would not be overdrawn as I write this. 

Now, why would this story appear in a magazine serving the retail automotive industry? Because I, a lawyer who regularly trains on topics including fraud in the automotive industry, got burned in a spot delivery.

I have literally been involved with a spot delivery of a car where the selling dealership was in Nevada, the “buyer” was in Texas, and the car was to be delivered in Illinois, involving a cashier’s check drawn on a bank in Missouri. That pretty much describes my piano transaction.

My advice to the F&I manager who called me? “Run away from this deal – it drips with red flags.” But it was too late. The car had been delivered and the bogus cashier’s check had been returned. The dealership swallowed the loss.

Why had the deal gone through in the face of so many signs of fraud? The same reason I forwarded $1,380 from my checking account to a bogus mover — the deal was too good to be true. I wanted it to be true — it solved a problem and generated some cash for the friend whose piano it was. So I plowed through against my better judgment. 

Let this serve as a cautionary tale. Don’t spot deliver a car — or a piano — unless you’ve considered all the signs of potential fraud and their consequences. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go cover an overdraft.

James S. Ganther is president of Mosaic Compliance Services and co-founder of Automotive Compliance Education (ACE).

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