We live in a world full of scams. Nigerian Prince Scams. Credit Card Scams. Lottery Scams. Tax Refund Scams. And yes, Airstream Scams.
We've all been there - browsing For Sale listings and there it is - our Dream Airstream listed for sale with a price too good to believe. Or the "Buyer" calling on our For Sale ad that will pay our full asking price before any questions, but with a long story about how they are deployed military, have a sick Aunt, need you to send a money order ... on and on.
Navigating around these scam landmines can be tricky, but there are things you can do to protect yourself from being on the losing end of these unscrupulous criminals trying to separate you from your hard earned cash.
Things like Knowing Who you are Dealing With, Knowing What you are Dealing With, Knowing Where you are Dealing, and one more Pro Tip that will help guide you along your way to a safe and happy purchase or sale.
So here we go ....
Know WHO you are dealing with.
Whether you are buying locally or long distance, the more information you know about who you are dealing with the safer you are. Some marketplaces and venues are better for this than others.
Buyers and sellers are mostly anonymous on eBay, but eBay uses their "member rating" system to grade how reliable the member has been on their platform. You can look at a person's rating, see how long they have been on eBay, and get some idea how reliable they are. If they joined yesterday and have zero feedback, you are more at risk than if you are dealing with someone like myself that has been on eBay since 1998. Businesses have eBay profiles as well, often with links to their place of business, website and more, which can help you decide how reliable they are. eBay can not keep out all the fraudsters, but they do have great tools to help you pick them out before doing business with one.
eBay also has very very strong buyer protection programs that help to shield you from getting taken for a ride, so overall, I find eBay to be one of the safest marketplaces to shop or sell.
Facebook Marketplace / Facebook Groups
Facebook has a powerful unique advantage with Facebook Marketplace and Buy / Sell Groups like Airstream Hunter. For Sale posts on Facebook are always linked to the sellers Facebook Profile. A quick look at the profile will shed light on the seller - how long they have been on Facebook, how complete is their profile, etc. I've been in Facebook since 2007, so its pretty unlikely I'm going to be posting a fake ad on there. If the post is from "Pnum Num sellr Dmg Play" that joined Facebook yesterday, you might want to dig a bit deeper before trusting what they are selling. Fake Facebook profiles are rampant, so take the time to check the Seller's profile to gauge how "real" they seem.
In the Airstream Hunter group, I take extra steps to limit fake members. I personally screen every member that joins the group. Yes, that's over 34,000 requests to join so far that I have personally approved. If the facebook profile looks suspect, is from a country that is not likely to be buying Airstreams, or the person has been on FB for less than 30 days, they don't get in the group. Simple as that. This really helps keep fake profiles, and therefore fake listings out of the group. On a side note, I personally approve Every Listing in the group as well.
What can I say. CL is the undisputed King of Fake Ads. A big reason for that is that profiles are 100% Anonymous on Craigslist. You can open an account or respond to any ad with complete anonymity on CL. Perfect for the scammer. Even emailing back and forth you don't see the person's "real" email address. Disposable phone numbers are easy to set up, so even a phone number does nothing to tell you if the person posting or responding is real. "The textmail subscriber you are trying to reach is not available - please leave your message after the tone". If you hear that message, it's a fake ad.
Talking to the buyer or seller in person is the best way to see if they are the real deal - my first question on any CL ad or response is always - "I'm interested - can I call you to discuss?".
In Person Transactions
If you are meeting someone in person, do not be afraid to ask for identification. You are considering a multi-thousand dollar transaction together and a nice place to start is to be sure that the person is really who they say they are. The irony is that it is easier to learn about someones status and reputation more quickly online than it is in person these days. But at least know the identity of who you are dealing with.
Know WHAT you are dealing with.
When you see an ad, a very quick "reality check" is to see how many photos are in the ad. Scammers rarely have time to post 25 high res photos of the fake trailer they are trying to sell you. There will be one photo, maybe 2 or 3. So a quick look at how many photos are in the ad will give you a quick check if the ad is real or fake. Also its very common for scammers to use the same photo(s) over and over in dozens of ads, so if you are seeing the same Bambi pic in 50 places, you can be pretty sure its not a real listing. Another hint is you will often see photos with the price or other information emblazoned over the photo. Not something a real seller will typically do.
Scammers tend not to write long winded detailed descriptions on their fake ads. The descriptions tend to be brief, and they often cut and paste basic facts or specs from ad to ad, even if they don't match the photo of the trailer. Some of my personal favs are "great gas mileage", "Sleeps 6 (in a Bambi ad), and this one from an ad just today "4 cubic foot, length 19" - which is some kind of new math I guess. If someone is selling a $5,000 to $100,000 item, they are normally going to take a few minutes to write a detailed description of the trailer. Short descriptions or descriptions full of cut and pasted specs are a red flag.
Fake ads often have weird headlines. Scammers do that so they know which ad you are responding to since they are posting hundreds of ads for the same trailer. If the ad heading says "bambi 223irstream for Sale" its not a typo - its a fake ad.
Under the "too good to be true" category, if your Dream Airstream is for sale at $45,000 all over the place and you one advertised for $1,200, it's not your lucky day. It's fake. Please don't message me and ask me if it's fake. Don't post it in the groups and ask 100 other people if its fake. It's fake. I repeat, It's fake. Did I mention, it's fake.
Now, if the same trailer is posted at $30,000 instead of $45,000 it might not be fake, it MIGHT be a good deal, but more likely it's fake and you better be SUPER cautious as you move ahead dealing with the seller.
Ok, so the other less obvious thing is that if the For Sale Price is some odd number, say $12,589, its probably fake. Again it is a way scammers help sort one ad response from another. Could it be the sellers lucky number? Sure. But most likely it's fake.
The title can tell you a lot, and you better check it out before you get too serious about buying the trailer. You'd be surprised how often titles are messed up and the seller does not even realize it.
Here's what you want to check on the title, and you need to check it whether you are dealing in person or long distance.
- Check the Serial Number / VIN on the title against the Serial Number / VIN on the trailer. They must match - EXACTLY. If they do not match exactly, there's a problem with the title that needs to be corrected before the transaction can proceed or you may find yourself not being able to register the trailer without additional time and expense.
- Check that the name on the title matches the sellers name - in other words, the title is in the sellers name. If it does not, you need to know why. Titles can be transferred from one person to the next if they are signed by the person who is listed on the title, but there are many nuances to this that vary from State to State and you need to know what you are up against if the title is not in the sellers name.
- Check that the title is "Clear", meaning there are no outstanding liens or encumbrances on the title. If they are there and not removed, you will assume responsibility for them - not a good thing.
- Watch out for "Salvage" or "Demolition" titles. They greatly restrict what you can do with the trailer - this varies from State to State so you'll need to do your homework.
Titles are tricky business with old trailers - often they are misplaced. In some cases states did not require a title - only a registration. There are many nuances to this - too many to get into here - but not having a title is not the end of the story - it just means you have to do more research and due diligence to figure out what is going on. Every State has unique requirements to obtain lost or replacement titles. But it typically can be done.
Know WHERE you are dealing
When dealing in person, you already know where the trailer is. Dealing long distance is another story - you really don't know where the trailer is - you are relying on the representations of the seller. One tip to help verify that the seller and the trailer are in the same location is that I will ask the seller to send me a picture of something specific on the trailer - a spot of damage, a certain part of the interior, something specific that they will only be able to do if the trailer is in their possession.
A virtual walk through on Facetime or Facebook Messenger is also a great way to get more comfortable with the seller and the trailer. If you get some long winded explanation as to why they can not send you that pic or do a live walk-around, it's an orange flag to be cautious. Sometimes the seller and the trailer are not in the same location - I sell trailers all the time in places where I'm not - so it is not a deal breaker, but it is something to be aware of and investigate to your satisfaction
Pro Tip - Know your Risk Appetite
How much risk you are comfortable with in a transaction is a very personal decision, and it will affect how you shop for or sell a trailer. I call this your Risk Appetite. The more risk you are willing to take, the higher your chance of finding exactly what you want at the best price. Lower risk means less choices and less price flexibility. It's a tradeoff you have to make and you need to know where you stand before you shop or sell.
Without question the safest way to buy or sell an Airstream or anything else for that matter is to deal in-person, which means locally or within easy reach of your location. Meeting the buyer / seller in person and seeing the trailer in person is the lowest risk way to conduct a transaction. Buying locally from an Authorized Dealer is even safer than dealing with a private seller.
Of course, this safety comes with a tradeoff, and that is price and selection. Buying locally is going to dramatically limit your selection of Airstreams to choose from. If you are buying from a Dealer you are likely going to pay a higher price than a private seller and you may have other costs involved that dealers sometimes add to the selling price.
Buying long distance adds many levels of risk and uncertainty to a transaction as we have talked about, and how much of that you are comfortable with is a decision only you can make. I buy trailers sight unseen with very little due diligence all the time - because my Risk Appetite is very High, in order to buy trailers that are very hard to find and desirable all over the country. That's not something most people are comfortable with, but for me it makes sense because this is my business and it is the only way I can acquire rare and hard to find trailers for my clients.
Knowing your personal risk appetite will help guide your buying and selling strategy and how you deal with the uncertainties that may pop up along the way.
Airstream Hunter Services
If all of this sounds like it is just more trouble than it's worth, I can help. I offer a range of Buyer and Seller Services that can help you reduce your risk on any transaction, from Price Checks to my full Concierge Service, where I handle the entire transaction for you from beginning to end. Check out the Helping You Buy and Helping You Sell sections on AirstreamHunter.com for more information.
Happy (and safe) Hunting.
Ward Chandler - Founder
... and just one more for laughs. This one is still in Scammer pre-school.