If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Watch out - bike scam

Sad to see that a forum I was once involved with has been the 'victim' of a lot of scams involving the sale of motorcycles. The forum was part of the UKBike website, which was owned by a company I used to work for. In fact, it was how I was tempted back into biking after a few years' layoff. The guy who had been contracted to run the newly-acquired website asked all staff to write something for the web content, and I duly obliged with a few stories and reviews. This got me thinking, then I 'happened' to call by my local dealership one day, and within a week or two I was back on two wheels. For a while, the forum was lively, but the parent company neglected it and, as is the way with these things, the forum died the death.

I logged in there a few moments ago, just out of curiosity, and there have been a few posts there since I left, most of which concern a scam that seems to be gaining momentum, especially through low-cost advertisers like Friday-Ad, where the level of supervision of the advertisers is necessarily minimal. It's a classic scam which no-one with any common sense would be taken in by, but it seems to be working with some:
  • Advert appears in a small-ads paper (or its associated website) for a desirable bike at a suspiciously low price
  • Caller responds and is given details and an email contact
  • Bike is held at a 'shipping agent' and money must be sent to the agent by Moneygram or Western Union and held there
  • When money is received, bike will be delivered to buyer
  • When buyer is happy with the purchase, agent will send money to seller.
Of course, the bike doesn't exist (or it does, but is advertised over and over again), and the latter two stages of the process never happen. Once the money is sent, nothing more is heard. One chap has posted his unfortunate experiences on the forum, and another has done his research at Companies House and has listed all the dodgy directorships of the person involved, who claims to sell bikes this way because he is a welder on a North Sea oil rig and is selling the bike to raise money while he is away.

It's amazing that, in this day and age, people are still being taken in by scams like this. But some people seem to be trusting souls - perhaps bikers more than others, as we tend to band together and trust each other in a way that doesn't happen elsewhere. A lot of the anger is being directed at the website and publication, for hosting the adverts in the first place.

In the old, old words, which cannot be repeated often enough: if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.


  1. I try to teach my kids Street Smarts as well as common sense b/c in this world there are always some ugly folks looking to make an easy score on the naive.

  2. I can't believe that anyone is still taken in by this kind of thing. Before the internet, who would dream of buying something as major as a bike or car, and voluntarily pay cash to someone they had never met who promises to pay the seller before they had even seen the goods?

    And yet, it still happens.


  3. Erm...users of escrow services? One of the cornerstones of trade shipping, if I recall my O-level History rightly. And to be fair, it's exactly the sort of service PayPal and Amazon Marketplace, to name but two, provide. Perhaps the issue is that people have become very used to transactions via intermediaries, most of which are wholly legit and provide money-back cover.

    I'd be quite surprised, in fact, if such scams aren't becoming more successful. Not only can they reach a wider audience faster, but it's astonishing how many people will follow the most ridiculous instructions just because they appear on a computer screen.

    Still, whether online or off, it is quite sad to think there are people out there without even the nous to check the credibility of their "financial agent", or to be aware that Western Union offer no cover whatsoever on money transfers...

  4. I wouldn't call sending large amounts of money to an unknown 'agent' on a flimsy promise that they will keep it safe 'escrow', in the same way that I wouldn't call buying London Bridge from a street seller in Los Angeles an international property deal. In either case, it's just the gullible getting taken to the cleaners. I take your point, though - escrow is an established practice in certain limited fields of finance.

    The great thing about the internet is the sheer numbers you can reach. If only 0.1% of people will risk their money on your 'once-in-a-lifetime deal', and you can contact ten million people, you've got yourself a business model.

    Remember the 'Rules for the Con' in Hustle? The first one is "you can't cheat an honest man". As long as people want something for nothing, there will be suckers who will fall for this kind of thing.

  5. With complex and impressive Shipping Company web sites, phone numbers and e-mail addresses on those sites that work (until your moneys been taken) and bike details that stand up when checked with both the DVLA and HPI companies and the Shipping Companies themselves appearing to be legitimate when checked with Companies House in London and lately Bank accounts held with amongst others, Barclays Bank Plc its easier to get taken in than you would first think..Also, the bikes advertised are now being offered at attractive yet not ridiculously cheap prices so not arousing the suspicions of being too good to be true....My advice never entertain any bike you cant go and inspect and never trust a soul that tells you to deal through a third party....


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