Beware these boat and camper scams during pandemic

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are looking for ways to avoid crowds. So buying a boat or camper might sound like a great option to keep your family safe on vacation — as long as you avoid getting scammed.

Tracey Beers is a single mom and watercolor artist who wanted a way to spend more time outdoors. Her dream was to take her kids boating and camping this summer to avoid the risk of the coronavirus.

With demand for boats and campers high as families look for socially-distant safe vacations, prices at boat dealers were too high. So Beers turned to Facebook Marketplace, where she found many better deals.

There, she spotted a $1,800 2011 pontoon boat and a $1,000 camper for sale several states away. Beers messaged the seller, asking why the price was so low.

“The woman said her husband had passed away a month ago,” Beers said. “She said there were too many memories, and she needed to get rid of the boat as soon as possible.”

That made sense to Beers. She also found confidence that the seller was using eBay to handle the transaction, with a request for eBay gift cards as payment.

“She said to purchase eBay cards, and give her the numbers when you scratch off the back,” Beers said.

Beers found that confusing but assumed it meant eBay was protecting her.

“They said, ‘We’re not going to give the person the money until the product is delivered,'” she said.

But after spending almost $3,000 on gift cards for the boat and camper, Beers says the seller ghosted her.

“The phone number was changed. It was disconnected,” she said.

Scammers repost legitimate ads

Beers had fallen victim to what is called the “Facebook Marketplace scam.”

The ad for the pontoon boat had been copied from a real listing, then reposted at a much lower price. That pontoon boat for $1,800? The same model is currently available for $18,000 — ten times the price.

Her money was gone. eBay does not refund gift cards, even if they are sent to a scammer.

“I think it’s horrible they are doing it, I am hoping I can help someone else,” she said.

The warning signs of a scam:

  • The price is too low compared with others for sale.
  • Someone in their family just died or was shipped off to military service.
  • The item is far away, so there is no way to see it in person.
  • The seller makes excuses when you request to see the item in person.
  • They promise to ship it to you, perhaps even free of charge.
  • They want payment immediately via gift cards or a wire transfer.

Bottom line: whether it is a boat, camper or car, be suspicious of anything that seems too cheap, especially if you can’t see it in person.

That way, you don’t waste your money.

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