ANAHEIM, Calif. --Are used cars advertised online at rock-bottom prices too good to be true? A months-long Eyewitness News investigation found that many unsuspecting car buyers are getting ripped off.
Michael Crawford told Eyewitness News he paid a steep price for what he thought was a great deal.
Crawford had to move quickly. He said his wife Erika needed a way to get to work. The father of four was about to go on tour with his band, Taipan, when the family car broke down.
"I go on Craigslist, and we find a 2006 Nissan Murano, a white Nissan Murano," recalled the 41-year-old Anaheim resident.
The price? Just $2,000.
Crawford said he looked at the links for the Murano, which showed different angles and interior shots of the vehicle. The links also provided the name of the seller as "Ashely Miller" from Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
"It made sense that she was selling it cheap," Crawford said.
In the email Miller sent to Crawford, she explained that the SUV was used by her husband who died four months ago. She said she was "in a hurry to find a buyer...leaving on military duty with my medical team out of the country for a year."
Crawford texted, and the seller responded with a link to what looked like "eBay's Buyer Protection Program," offering a "7-day inspection period." Not satisfied? The program said "funds will be returned."
He thought the transaction was going through eBay Motors. The purchase had to be made using eBay gift cards. Crawford bought $2,000 worth, then called what he thought was eBay to provide the card numbers.
He received purchase confirmation and left to tour with his band.
But when he returned, "there was no car and a panicking wife," Crawford said.
Crawford tried to contact the seller, but the number was disconnected. He then found and called the real eBay Motors.
"They told me I'd been scammed," Crawford said.
Eyewitness News contacted Fort Belvoir, where the seller claimed she was based, but they told us they have no record of "Ashely Miller." Not only that, they get calls on these type of scams about twice a week.
Crawford went to Anaheim police. The department receives about 20 reports a month from people who lose between $800 and $2,000 in similar online car-buying scams just in Anaheim alone, said Anaheim Police Sgt. Daron Wyatt. He said suspects are rarely caught.
"Everything's a sham. The people, nine times out of 10, are out of the country. They're usually overseas," Wyatt said.
Eyewitness News went online and found what looked like the same 2006 Nissan Murano for $2,000, being sold by "Ashely." So, we texted her.
Her response was the exact same story that she sent to Crawford.
We contacted multiple car sellers through Craigslist and received similar responses. A "Staff Sgt. Michael Midgette" based at Offutt Air Force Base said he needed to sell because he was being transferred.
An Offutt spokesperson told us they started hearing about these online ads more than a year ago.
"In every case, there was no record of the individual listed in the advertisement as serving at Offutt Air Force Base", said the Offutt Air Force Base - 55th Wing base Public Affairs Office.
Craigslist did not return our messages.
EBay officials said consumers should be careful if a vehicle is listed on another website, yet the seller says eBay will protect the transaction.
EBay also said another red flag is if the seller is asking you to pay by emailing or calling in the gift card codes or through MoneyGram. EBay said it never does that, because it's not a verifiable form of payment.
"Basically that was all the money we had saved," Crawford said.
To make matters worse, "Ashely" recently contacted him again, offering to sell him the same vehicle.
Crawford said his wife is borrowing vehicles for now to get to work, and he is now forced to walk to doctor's appointments.
He suffers from Alport Syndrome, a rare genetic condition-that requires kidney dialysis.
Crawford said he hopes his experience serves as a warning to others.
To learn more about protection against similar scams, visit the eBay Security Center Page.