18 Apr 2020

Couple under financial pressure scammed in car sale

2:59 pm on 18 April 2020

An Auckland couple say they are disappointed that their car put on sale to relieve their financial pressure during the Covid-19 outbreak was scammed.

CLoseup of Red pen which is filling in the bank check - 3d rendering

The couple realised the amount was only shown as "current" but not "available" as it was a cheque deposit. Photo: 123RF

Suraweera and her partner Paul, who did not want their full names used, posted advertisements on social media to sell one of their cars last month before the national lockdown was announced.

She said with restructuring happening at work, they were trying to get ready and have some extra money at hand so they could continue to support their family in Sri Lanka.

Last Saturday on 11 April, a man got in touch on Facebook saying that he was interested and was in a hurry to get a car, according to Suraweera.

"We weren't sure whether we were able to sell it because of the lockdown situation so we contacted the Healthline. They say as long as we keep a distance and take all the precautions, it should be OK, so we passed the message to the buyer as well," she said.

The next day, the buyer claimed that he had deposited the $8990 asked for the car and would have a friend pick it up as he was busy.

Suraweera said when they checked on the phone, the amount did show up as "money in", so they let the man drive it away.

Later on that day, they realised the amount was only shown as "current" but not "available" and they contacted their bank Westpac.

The couple said they became worried when they checked online and found RNZ had reported on similar stories last year.

The bank told them the next day it was a cheque deposit and they will have to wait for a few days to know whether the cheque can be validated.

The couple tried to contact the "buyer", but found his Facebook account was already deactivated.

They couple was only told by the bank on Friday that the cheque was not valid and will be dishonoured.

Suraweera said the police had not flagged the car as "stolen" as it needed confirmation from the bank about why the cheque cannot be honoured.

She said they were worried that the car could be resold in the meantime.

"I'm really worried about it and disappointed in another way because it's taking a really long time," she said.

"I really think that if the bank doesn't do anything to show the information of a pending transaction in any other way, it will just keep going on."

Suraweera said they didn not know it was a cheque deposit and also they would not have a clue when the transaction would be deemed as complete because they have never dealt with a cheque before.

Auckland City Police Detective Senior Sergeant Nikki Latimer said police were making enquiries on the case and has flagged the car as "wanted".

"Police urge people to be vigilant when selling or buying goods online, especially if it is through social media or a messaging service."

Westpac told RNZ in a statement that it would work with the couple to support their complaint to the police and any subsequent investigation.

"We remind anyone selling a high-value possession such as a car that payments made into their account need to clear before becoming available to them. They should exercise a high degree of caution if they are being asked to release their property prior to the funds clearing," it said.

Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden said they have seen an increase in fraud cases, but not a lot of cheque fraud cases.

"It is important that a bank makes it clear to its customers whether or not a payment has been cleared and is available for use," she said.

"We would advise you to check with your bank that the money from a cheque deposit has cleared before you consider it yours."

She said anyone who has concerns about their bank should contact the bank first and if the issue cannot be resolved, they can make a complaint to the Banking Ombudsman.

RNZ understands that the two men who lost their cars in the same scam last year have not got any compensation.