Some online scams are obvious, like a Nigerian prince who pops up in your email inbox promising untold fortunes or a mint-condition Toyota Supra turbo selling for $1,000. But scamming is actually big business — and modern scams can look far more convincing than a conspicuously unbelievable ad posted on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Scammers have gotten smarter, they know how to make things look plausible and convincing. Before you know it you’ll be sent on a wild goose chase for a car that might not exist, cheated out of thousands of dollars, with little to no recompense. That’s what happened to Zach Kroeger, an Ohio man conned out of close to $10,000 in search of a classic car.
The more you care about what kind of car you’re going to be buying, the more arduous the search process is. When you’re trying to find something old or exotic, the quest to get your car can be particularly taxing. As fatigue sets in and patience wanes, it gets easier for scammers to sneak below your radar and screw you over. This story is a bit of a PSA to remember that; an example of how a shady deal can look viable especially if you really want it to work out.
Take Mr. Kroeger’s story here on advisement, and keep it in mind if a deal starts to feel off.
“I bought my first car when I was fifteen, and it was a rust bucket. I always dreamed about getting a nice one, but they aren’t so common,” Kroeger said to me in a Zoom call in late March 2021. Finally in a position to relive his youthtime car passion on better terms, Kroeger sold his Chrysler Conquest in search of his dream car: an AMC Javelin. He sold his car online, sight unseen. Initially, Kroeger was apprehensive about it. The transaction was handled via a video call, and money was transferred via wire. It seemed odd, but everything went OK. The new owner got his Chrysler Conquest, and Kroeger got his cash.
Now paid, Kroeger went on to search for a Javelin. Thing is, AMC Javelins are much rarer than a comparable Mustang or Camaro, so finding a decent one for a decent price proved to be harder than he thought it’d be. AutoTrader Classic, Hagerty, and even local Craigslist listings turned up nil, but Kroeger kept searching.
Finally, Kroeger found his dream car on a site called Yupyi.com. The ad seemed promising: The vehicle was listed in Lexington, Kentucky, only a few hours from him. The photos and pricing looked just right.
It seemed like this was “the one,” so Kroeger excitedly sent the seller a message.
The seller replied that the car was not actually in Lexington, Kentucky, but more than 2,000 miles away, in Seattle. The seller explained that the car was in the hands of a shipping company; that it was in the process of being sold until a seller backed out of the deal. They explained that the shipping company would be able to handle the rest of the deal, acting as a broker, for both the buyer and seller’s protection. The shipping company would arrange transport, and any monies would be secured with the company. All of the questions Kroeger asked, the seller answered. He sent Kroeger other pics of the Javelin, and he seemed very knowledgeable about AMC Javelins.
To Kroeger, everything seemed to check out. All of the websites the seller had sent him looked real. The shipping company was based in the UK, but the details looked legitimate, and it appeared to be a real outfit. Responses felt realistic too; as each email looked incredibly professional, they even had business day delays on responses, adding to the authenticity of the scam.
Confident that everything was good, Kroeger wired over $9,700 to the UK-based shipping company for his new AMC Javelin. Kroeger was uneasy, at that moment he realized he hadn’t gotten the Javelin’s VIN, and all of his correspondence had been via email. Still, the legal contracts looked complicated, much too hard to be faked, so Kroeger pressed forwards. After the money was transferred he was given a delivery time, and it seemed like everything was on its way.
Then, a couple of days later, the seller informed that the car was “destroyed in transport” somewhere near Chicago. This is where things started to go south. The seller assured Kroeger that he’d get his money back, but after a few back-and-forth emails, the seller went cold, keeping nearly $10,000 of Zach Kroeger’s money. Because the transaction was done via wire transfer, most fraud protection doesn’t apply.
Kroeger tried to do some digging himself. The shipping company was in fact real, but when he called to check on his shipping contract, the company informed him that no such number or contract had ever existed. The scammers had stolen the tax ID number of a real company and made fake web pages, and even a fake Google business listing.
I looked into Kroeger’s plight too, attempting to find any trace of the seller, scammer, or where the fake Javelin’s information came from. The website Kroeger found the Javelin from, Yupyi, looks to be filled to the brim with less-obvious enthusiast-type car listings. Old B-body Caprices, pristine diesel 1980s era Ford pickups, a fully restored Volvo Amazon. All of the prices seem plausible; none are too low or too high, the advertisements tell accurate information about the cars. To many, finding an unknown website might be a huge red flag, and a sign to walk away. Yet, the internet is an ever-changing entity, with new car shopping websites, car auction houses, and methods of buying and selling popping up every other day, it seems. Had Kroeger hit the Jackpot, and found a website that was a sleeper, an unknown repository of not-obvious enthusiast car listings? It could be plausible that Yupyi was an early Cars and Bids, or the next Bring a Trailer, a website full of automotive gems, overlooked by most enthusiasts. Not every car enthusiast obsessively scrolls Twitter or follows industry news for that kind of thing.
I reached out to Yupyi for any comments on fraud or scam mitigation, but nobody’s responded. Some listings look legitimate, with ads and copy that link back to established dealerships. Some listings are full of images that are stolen from other listings, sometimes years old. Like this Ford F-350: listed on Yupyi for more than $13,000. This car was sold in 2018, at an eBay auction. Out of curiosity, I contacted the buyer of this Caprice station wagon, asking for more details about the vehicle. I filled out the form and left my email address and name. Within a day, I had an e-mail response from a man very eager to get rid of his Caprice Wagon. Like Kroeger, my dream classic car was more than 2,000 miles away from the location stated in the listing. The “seller” claimed he was out of town, and I would need to go through a third party that he’d already set up, to get the vehicle.
Kroeger has reached out to both his bank and the UK bank he transferred money to, but both have apparently said that there’s not much they can do. He’s also filed a complaint with the FBI, but nothing has come of that yet either. We’re still looking into the backstory of yupyi.com to figure out what’s really going on with it, and we’d love to hear from you in the comments or via email at [email protected] if you’ve tried to buy anything off the site.
Savvy or Not, Stay Suspicious and Shop Carefully
Zach Kroeger, and many others, have fallen for these scams because they look more legitimate than ever. He’s sent me pages and pages of real-looking papers and correspondence that could have fooled me; especially if I’d spent weeks or months looking for a car and felt close to closing a deal. Kroeger’s story is a good reminder that there are bad people out there who will go to great lengths to get your money and that it’s much easier to fall prey to a scam like this than many people realize. Here are some things to look for and methods to protect yourself when you’re trying to buy a car online:
- Ask for the VIN number, and don’t let up until you have it. If the seller can’t give you that information, walk away.
- Insist on your own inspection of your own volition. If you can’t be present to look at the car, hire a mechanic who can. Any reputable seller would be willing to allow a third-party inspection, and mobile mechanics work in pretty much every corner of the U.S. these days.
- If you are shipping the vehicle long distances, it would best to arrange it yourself.
- Use an escrow account to exchange funds. If paying via cash or cashier’s check in person is not feasible, an escrow account with mutually agreed terms would be the safest way for both parties to avoid being scammed.
Kroeger himself still is in high spirits, but of course, he’s still hoping for restitution and his $9,700 back. He wants people to realize that these scams are much more sophisticated than you might think, and even if you’re paying attention, it can be easier to fall victim than you might realize. Remember, these folks are unscrupulous, they’ve cheated a lot of very smart people out of thousands of dollars. They don’t care about you, or your love of cars, they just want your money.
More Fun Car-Selling Stories
- What Do You Look for in a Seller When Buying a Car? “You want to vet the vehicle, naturally, but sometimes it makes sense to consider who you’re buying from too.”
- This Abandoned Dealership Is Like a Time Machine to 1999. “Why were so many cool cars left here to die?”
- You’re All Paying Way Too Much for BMW ZHPs. “I loved my ZHP, and it was reliable to me for many thousands of miles. But the same car now is more like $12,000 and I can’t abide!”
- How I Traded A Shitbox Honda Civic For An Excellent Lexus LS400. “It may have been the luckiest car trade of all time.”
- Reminder: Auction Prices Don’t Indicate What Cars Are Actually Worth. “An auction isn’t really a sale, the market for sports cars is arbitrary, but at the end of the day, there are still some cheap vehicles out there.”