I recently had a very bad experience with Mexican scammers trying to ‘purchase’ my motorcycle. Let me just say upfront that I used to think I wouldn’t fall for a scam like that, but boy was I wrong and did I suffer consequences.
A few years ago I sold a motorcycle through the ‘Craigslist’ of Mexico (Mercado Libre). That all went smooth so I decided to sell another motorcycle that way again. I didn’t receive many serious responses, until about 3 weeks ago when a guy called me who showed interest. We agreed I would bring the motorcycle (he lived in a different city) so he could view it. We met at the office of a friend of mine.
He liked the motorcycle and he deposited the money in my account with a cheque, saying that he couldn’t do a transfer because it was a company account which only the accountant had transfer authorisation for. I was warned by Mexican friends that I should be careful with cheque deposits so I got a little bit suspicious, but the guy seemed trustworthy enough.
Now, in hindsight, I learned this is the oldest trick in the book and I should have refused the cheque deposit, but in the moment, and me being from Europe, never having used a cheque in my life thus not really knowing how a cheque deposit works, decided to partially agree. After I said I wouldn’t give him anything until the cheque passed, he got a little upset (but still friendly). In the end I partially gave in to that pressure (BIG MISTAKE 1). I did not give him the bike, but I gave him the papers (BIG MISTAKE 2), agreeing that I would call him when the cheque passed so that he could come and pick up the bike at my friend’s office.
The scam unveils
Of course the cheque did not pass and that’s when the – I call it – ‘fallback scam’ began (they didn’t get the bike, so “let’s get at least something out of this guy”). He told me he canceled the cheque because the papers I gave him were false (which of course they were not). He offered two options: I could bring him the bike and he would do another cheque deposit, ór I could give him 5% of the amount to get my papers back “sin problema”.
At this point it was overly clear it was a scam artist so I did not agree to either of those, but the harm was already done. The papers I gave him included the original invoice, and in Mexico, if you have the invoice, you are officially the owner of the motorcycle. So, after exchanging some messages with the guy for a while, he started threatening that he would report the bike as stolen. As in… I stole the bike from him!!!
SAY WHAT NOW???? 😳.
I have to admit, this got me a bit scared (and of course that’s exactly why he said it). Thoughts starting racing through my head: What would happen to me? Could I get arrested? Or, even worse, end up in a Mexican prison and/or be kicked out of the country? Also the guy knew where my friend’s office was. What if he decided to ‘pay a visit’ there? Even though I knew deep down these were not rational thoughts, they kept crossing my mind anyway… for days and a couple of sleepless nights!
That’s when I decided to contact a lawyer as I, being a foreigner in Mexico, did not know for sure how this could play out should the guy really report the bike as stolen. The lawyer reassured me that this transaction was fraudulent and I should report it to the authorities as such. And by reporting it (having quite some proof like bank statements and WhatsApp chat history) I would be in the clear. So, that’s what I did.
My lawyer said that, in general, the easiest way was to just pay the guy to get my papers back. “Just consider it a bad transaction” is what someone else said to me. “It’ll cost you the least amount of money in the end and also the least amount of time.”
In the end, even though I hated this guy with all my heart, let alone give him any money, I decided to pay him the 5%. I knew there was a risk of him not returning my papers regardless of me paying him, but, I decided to take that risk for several reasons: 1. Safety reasons, because then at least he would have gotten something out of me and not go looking for me or the bike at the only address he knew, my friend’s office. 2. If he would not return the papers that would also help strengthen the fraud case against him and 3. It would save me a lot of time and money if he would give me back the papers.
As more or less expected, he didn’t give back my papers after I paid him, but I’m OK with that. Unlike my first bad decisions, this was a decision deliberately made by me for well thought through reasons.
So now, it is going to cost me more money. If I ever want to sell that bike again, I need to get a copy of the invoice and get that copy notarised. That will cost me money, but that’s not all. The bike will be worth quite a bit less with a notarised copy invoice compared to the original invoice.
Looking back, I feel incredibly stupid. In hindsight there were some signals and feelings that I should have picked up on / should have acted upon, even before he did the cheque deposit. In the heat of the moment I disregarded those signals / feelings and continued with the transaction. I guess hindsight is always 20/20 ☹️.
Later I learned that these are small organised crime bands. A few guys that scam many people at the same time in the same way. They have a complete runbook on how to deal with all kinds of scenarios – know exactly what to say to get ‘best results’. So, after that big mistake of agreeing to a check deposit and agreeing to give him the papers, I was ‘in their system’.
I have little hope the guy will ever get caught. Police in Mexico is overwhelmed with car theft and fraudulent transactions like this. My case will just go on top of a very big pile.
Lesson Learned: Trust and act on your instincts!
I’m sharing this in the hope it will prevent others from falling for the same or similar scam. In the end it drills down to this: trust your instincts and act on them! If it feels even a little bit off, just don’t do it (even if that ‘upsets’ the buyer/potential scammer) and wait patiently for a next buyer.