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Caveat emptor

A weekly airdrop of Exchange & Mart was the luxury I used to think I’d choose when the producers of Desert Island Discs realised who they’d been missing all these years.

10 February 2010

12:00 AM

10 February 2010

12:00 AM

A weekly airdrop of Exchange & Mart was the luxury I used to think I’d choose when the producers of Desert Island Discs realised who they’d been missing all these years.

A weekly airdrop of Exchange & Mart was the luxury I used to think I’d choose when the producers of Desert Island Discs realised who they’d been missing all these years. But now, I fear, it would be access to eBay, that wonderful source of 24-hour auto-porn, plus everything else. Just to browse — I’d have nothing to bid with, of course, though that needn’t stop me.

Wonderful though eBay is, it should be negotiated with care. Not only is there always something you persuade yourself you need, when you don’t, but you can also fall victim to desert-island dwellers who mischievously run up the auction prices for eventual buyers. I nearly lost a pair of church pews like that but fortunately the pretender was exposed and the pews eventually came home in the horse box. More seriously, you can fall victim to scams, as a friend did recently.


He is an authority on a certain breed of classic car, which I won’t name because there’s a police investigation. The advert was well written, the photos convincing, the price good. Questions emailed to the seller were satisfactorily answered, my friend checked out the seller’s Facebook page and agreed to buy (this wasn’t an auction). He paid the money into an escrow account and drove with his trailer from Sussex to Lincolnshire to pick up his beauty. What he found there was a dilapidated empty house; a quick call established that his money had already left the escrow account.

Indeed, the escrow account had left, too. It wasn’t real, though the car was real and living in Hampshire, the advert was real, even the Facebook page was real — for the real seller who really existed. It was just the contact details and the so-called escrow account that weren’t. What the criminal had done was to clone the genuine advert and insert his own details.

Arguably, my friend’s first mistake was to pay thousands of pounds for a car he hadn’t seen. He knows the marque from nose to tailpipe and was perhaps overconfident. Even so, I wouldn’t buy a car without seeing and feeling it; some cars just look and feel right, others — though identical — just don’t. His second mistake was more serious: laziness. Instead of using eBay’s dependable PayPal escrow account, backed by eBay, he used a hyperlink to the rogue account that the criminal had inserted in the advert. It was, he confesses, easier to make one click on to the hyperlink than several clicks back to PayPal, which he’d always used before. Laziness is ever the enemy of security, in all of us.

None of this, of course, has stopped me drooling and fantasising my way through eBay’s many vehicles. Like my friend, I’m more persuaded by well-written adverts but, depressingly, 11 years of state education all too often renders the other kind more common. Nevertheless I’m tempted by an early Range Rover (good ones are becoming daily more collectable) despite reading that there’s nothing ruff about it, that the engine was seized, that the suctsion pipe, clutctch and hydrolics have been replaced, that there’s no corrsion, that is has an LPG convertion, that it passed its MOT with fly colours, that it has all its manuels and much thanks for reading about it.

Or maybe not. Poor spelling doesn’t equal poor morals, and neither does rough speech, though common car-seller’s jargon like ‘first to see will buy’ or ‘needs TLC for MOT’ should always give you pause. Yet when presentation is all we have to go by we’re reassured to feel we’re dealing with People Like Us, so we’re more inclined to believe well-written adverts. Like my friend.


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