It would appear that the internet-based rip-off artists are targeting tandem buyers / sellers with a bit more zeal than they have in the past. I say this in that during the past few weeks I’m aware of at least two members of the tandem community who have been victimized by criminals who have posted fake ads on tandem classified ad sites. Both of these trusting members of the tandem community were taken for several thousand dollars after they wired funds in the belief that they were dealing with real people who were selling real tandems.
So, here’s the deal…. if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
In one of the two instances that I’m aware of, someone found what they thought was a great deal on a travel tandem at the Tandem Club of America’s free classified ads. The other was a classified ad that appeared on a free ad on a website hosted by Tandems East. In both instances, after the would-be buyers realized they’d been had and contacted the classified ad site owners, it became pretty clear that there several fraudulent classified ads on those sites which were removed. Both of the classified ad sites are attempting to pay closer attention to what is being posted and/or adding administrative “firewalls” (refundable, up-front ad fees, personal ID requirements) to dissuade criminals from posting ads on those sites, but at the end of the day it is the buyer who must decide if a seller (or buyer) is legitimate.
The ads typically look legitimate because they started off as legitimate ads. However, in most cases the criminals have simply replicated real ads and use photos that real sellers have posted to build their scam ads. In fact, you can often times plug-in a copy of a tandem that’s up for sale to Google’s picture search engine and find either the original photos & ad, or other versions of the scam ad.
Therefore, here are some tips and resources that we have shared with the folks who run these sites and at least one of the tandem discussion forums where the topic came up.
Again, the biggest clue that an ad for a used tandem is probably a scam is an asking or offering price that is just out of line with the market, i.e., a used travel tandem for hundreds or thousands less than you’ve seen advertised / asked for elsewhere. Sorry folks, no one gives away high-end tandems for pennies on the dollar via the internet. Those “deal of the century” tandems tend to get sold to friends based on word of mouth advertising, not Craigslist, ebay or tandem classified ad sites. Same thing goes for sellers, if someone offers you a full price (or above full price) on your tandem, they’re probably not a legitimate buyer: if someone has that kind of money to throw around they’ll simply buy a new tandem. The really experienced scammers are a bit more savvy and tend to use prices that aren’t all that far off the fair market value, but still noticeably less than anyone else would be wanting for a similar bike.
So, how can you ferret out criminals? Actually, it’s not all that hard… trust but verify.
#1: Buyers – Always get the seller on the phone and find out where they bought the bike or had it last serviced and request the name/phone number of a local bike shop where someone could look it over for you and possibly arrange shipping, etc. If they waffle and can’t provide names/numbers that actually pan-out, move on. They had to buy that tandem somewhere… and I’ll bet that you as a legitimate tandem owner still know exactly who you bought your tandem from and where a local shop is.
#2: Sellers – Same thing works in reverse. If someone offers to pay you full price for a tandem without asking a bunch of really good questions, by all means, don’t ship the tandem until the funds are in the hands of an escrow firm or your bank account… preferably via a check that clears or PayPal. If someone doesn’t want to use PayPal or an escrow service there’s a reason: they’re criminals. Criminals don’t use services that protect buyers or sellers and pursue criminals.
With regard to the free on-line classified ad services, they are ALL “use at your own risk”. None of the folks who offer these classified ad services can truly guarantee the accuracy or authenticity of any ad placed on their websites without adding layers of security and cost that would drive cost into the system, a lot of cost. Therefore, buyers should be mindful that internet-based transactions — long distance, or in person, have certain inherent risks. Buyers and Sellers are both at risk for theft by fraud and any face-to-face meetings also present risks related to theft as well as personal safety.
As you might suspect, tandems are not the only thing that’s used as a lure by criminals. However, tandem buyers and sellers do seem to be attractive to criminals, most likely because they tend to be trusting and have money. So, in addition to some of the safeguards we have suggested, before becoming a buyer or seller please take time to do some research about buying and selling from one of the many articles that you’ll find on line, such as one of these:
- http://www.kbb.com/car-advice/articles/protecting-yourself-from-online-fraud/ (it applies to bikes also)
The following is something I wrote for TheTandemLink.com many years back to assist used tandem buyers with long-distance transactions that also work well to ferret-out scams; again, criminals don’t like to talk with buyers they want to do everything on-line via Email and wire transfers.
Ideally, most buyers and sellers prefer to find one another in close enough proximity to permit a face-to-face meeting, a physical inspection of the tandem and, of course, a test ride; perhaps even an extended test ride. Fortunately, at least in all my dealings with private sellers, buyers and tandem-specialty dealers or builders, long distance transactions have always been quite pleasant and ended up with no surprises. So, while there is some degree of risk, if you’re willing to trust your “gut” on a long distance transaction neither you nor the other party should end up being any worse for wear if everyone keeps their cards on the table throughout the transaction.
NOTE: A detailed sales contract should be drawn up for all long distance transactions. Language should be included that spells out all provisions regarding who has responsibility for the tandems shipment, under what conditions the buyer may decline to accept the tandem at the time of delivery and who will bear the responsibility for shipping costs. As an example, sales agreements should plainly state if the seller clearly mis-represented the condition or features of the tandem, or it was damaged in route, they bear the burden for a remedy subject to approval by the buyer. If the buyer simply changes their mind for any reason and no longer wants the tandem, they bear the burden for all shipping costs. In some cases, buyers and sellers may want to use a trusted, local bike shop as an agent for receiving and inspecting the tandem to protect their mutual interests.