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Notes about classic car scams by Scott Lewis

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I was bored one night in September. I was watching re-runs of Overhaulin, and they showed a buildup of a 63 Nova four door. I thought I would try to find a few four doors and even look for pictures of the Overhaulin Nova as inspiration that some four doors can be cool. Heck, my son loves the 67 Impala on Supernatural.

Alas, I found less than 2 dozen four doors on Autotrader Classic. I don't know what got into me but I put in the following search criteria:

  • 1962 - 1973
  • $5000 - $12,000

I know, that is not much. It came back with over 900 cars. I sorted them by price with the $12,000 cars listed first. I saw quite a few cars I really liked. But something bothered me. I saw a lot of SCAMS! So this month I am going to show you some of the scams. Next month I have planned a list of Plain Jane cars I have seen over the last few months then I will wrap up the year with the one day $12K or less cars I saw on this one September day.

Scams. I would see a lot of cars at very affordable prices, but when I clicked on the ad to see the picture it was of a high end car. I don't know how this scam works. As soon as you call you would immediately learn the car pictured is not what you would get... if you got anything at all. I believe these cars aren't even for sale at all.

This is the example that proved it was a scam. I saw this ad for a 72 Camaro:

The description for this car read, "1972 Chevrolet Camaro RS, This car has been frame off restored, rebuilt nom 350, power cross drilled front disc brakes, suspension is rebuilt, factory gauges, console, buckets, new good year tires, new bumpers and more. There has been a lot of time and money spent on this one so don't miss out. The body is solid and rust free and paint is nice driver. Car runs and drives great. Please look at all of the pictures." The price was $12,000.

The give away for me is that the pictures were taken at Harwell Motor Company. Take a look at these pictures of a 1987 Olds 442 I saw at Harwell's web site back in February:

Notice that these pictures were taken in the same spot. Harwell is located here in Texas while the $12,000 Camaro was a private party vehicle for sale in Illinois.

Now look at these 5 images and tell me which one is out of place?


If you thought the Porsche 914 was out of place you would be wrong. It is the brown Camaro. I got the picture of the Camaro from Autotrader Classic in an ad that read as follows:

1970 1/2 Camaro Z-28 , Exterior color: Classic Copper Interior Color: Saddle Engine: 470 C.I. Chevrolet Mark IV Carb/Fuel Pump: Barry Grant Transmission: Turbo 400 Manual Reverse Body, Cheetah SCS Shifter. $9,500.

The brown Camaro was being sold in Buford, GA by a private party. The remaining cars were all from Classic Auto Showplace's website and they are located in Troy, Michigan. Amazing that all the pictures were taken in the same spot. Also of note is that the wording of the ad is the same style that Classic Auto Showplace uses. My guess is that they took the ad verbatim from Classic Auto Showplace and put a number and e-mail address on it.

Since that's two Camaros I spotted as scams, I decided to drop my search to 1970 - 1973 Chevrolet Camaro priced from $9,000 - $12,000. Here's what I found:

70 Camaro - $10,800  70 Camaro - $9,900  72 Camaro
$9,800 in California
$9,200 in North Carolina 
69 Camaro - $9,850
Was listed as 70 Camaro 

The black Camaro is my favorite. It is being sold by two different people in two different states... at the same time. Amazing.

What's the scam? Do they really think they will get someone to buy the car from these pictures? Do they expect someone to send them money for such a car without an inspection, or more pictures, or some assurance they are getting a car at all? Are there really any people that gullible?

This brings up a problem with Autotrader Classic. I know that they cannot stop people from using their site to put up a fraudulent ads. But when I did my 70-73 Camaro search every cars was a scam except this one:

1972 Chevrolet Camaro, 51,600 mi, all orig, 2nd owner of 2nd gen, split bumper, Rally Sport pkg, always garaged, looks/runs great, nonsmoker, very clean int, fact ac, gold w/black vinyl top, $11,000.

There was a picture of the back of the car and it had a Kentucky license plate, and the seller was in Kentucky. Is this for real or is this a scam? Because all the other Camaros were a scam I doubted the validity of this ad. It does seem reasonable with the current economy that a very plain Camaro with mismatched paint and hub caps would be for sale for this price. I actually don't know.

That's my problem with Autotrader Classic. If they don't do anything to remove fraudulent ads then how can I use their site to find legitimate ads? Someone paid for this ad, right? There were 7 ads for 70-73 Camaros in the $9,000 - $12,000 price range that day in September. Either 6 or 7 of those ads were fraudulent. Yet Autotrader Classic took money for those ads. Which begs the question... do enough people fall for this scam to make it profitable for the scammer?

Note: I e-mailed Autotrader Classic and told them about the 70-73 Camaros. They e-mailed me bad with a link to the fraud section on their web site. They also said they cleaned up the "70-80 Camaros." Sure enough, when I went back all the nasty ads were gone, but only for that narrow section of 70-80 Camaro. There were still plenty for other makes and models. BTW... the green Camaro for $11,000 above was a legitimate ad.

As an experiment I modified my search as follows: 1962-1973, all makes, all models, $10,500 - $12,000. I sorted the list by price - high to low and displayed 100 ads at a time. I got 196 hits. On the first page of 100 ads I counted 51 dealer ads, 30 fraudulent ads, and 19 possibly fraudulent ads.

Possibly fraudulent? What does that mean. It means the cars (or trucks) looked reasonable for the price being asked, but the ads themselves had the same "feel" as the actual fraudulent ads. I could not find 1 private seller ad that I trusted. If any of the 19 "maybe" ads I saw were real, and I were ready to buy, it is likely I would not bother. Why should I trouble myself with increasing my spam, and possibly being ripped off.

At this point I think it is safe to stick with dealers. I don't like that. Dealers are in it for profit. Not that they are evil or trying to rip you off, but they do need to make a profit to stay in business. And that profit should be something left out of a private party transaction.


I'll finish this article with two thoughts:

  • It is amazing that anyone falls for this kind of thing? But it must happen enough to justify the cost and trouble for the "bad guys" to do it. That's just plain sad.
  • Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Scott Lewis

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