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Online car sale scam takes victims for a ride

Sarah Valdez of Los Alamos is among the thousands of consumers nationwide who has lost money to the increasingly popular online vehicle scam, according to the Better Business Bureau.

In Valdez’s case, the loss amounted to $1,400, wiping out her ability to buy a used car so that she and her daughter would no longer have to share a vehicle.

“There’s no way for me to recover” the money,” Valdez said. “It’s been a rough ride.” Valdez, a single mother of four, was trying to buy a 2006 Ford Ranger from a Montana woman after she was notified on her Facebook account that the truck was for sale.

She corresponded with the woman, who said the truck had tinted windows and other desirable features. The woman said she was selling it through eBay, although Valdez couldn’t find any information about it on the eBay site.

Still she decided to buy it because it was a good deal, and because the invoices the seller sent her looked legitimate.

There was an additional reason that drew her in.

“Her story about selling the vehicle was that her son died and that it was a painful reminder to her, and she couldn’t handle having the vehicle anymore,” Valdez said. “It made me feel sorry for her.”

So Valdez went ahead and paid the $1,400 by purchasing seven gift cards totaling that amount.

That, however, turned out to be insufficient. The woman said she needed another $1,000 for shipping. Valdez simply could not afford the additional charge. She did not get the car, and she did not get her $1,400 back.

The local BBB says it has received at least five reports of variations of this scam in New Mexico and southwest Colorado, with an attempted theft of more than $28,000.

In some versions, the seller offers to make third-party delivery arrangements for the vehicle if the buyer pays via escrow.

“In reality, neither the automobile nor the escrow company exists – leaving the buyer without their money or their vehicle,” the BBB says.

Nationwide, a BBB study found that thousands of consumers have fallen victim to the scam, which has grown in numbers during the pandemic as more people buy vehicles online.

The BBB suggests watching for these red flags:

• The price is significantly below market for the car.

• You can not meet the seller or inspect the car in person.

• Money must be sent to a supposed third party recommended by the seller.

If you’re using Craigslist, one of the most popular sites for fake ads, you can do a search of the entire site to see if the same vehicle is advertised in a variety of cities. This is a sure sign of a scam, the BBB says.

Go to and enter a particular description of the vehicle or a photo of it.

Contact Ellen Marks at or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210​.