Scams: false escrow services

An escrow account is one that allows you to deposit money with a third party until a transaction has been completed. The idea is that it gives security to both the buyer and the seller – but sometimes things are not all they seem.

With this scam, you need to be alert when buying a car that is priced unusually cheaply. This is how the seller gets your attention; when you enquire about the car it will be suggested that you use a specific escrow service. The seller will say they’ve used it before, and that it’s safe. However, once you’ve deposited your money, the seller will vanish, taking your money with them.

The scam works in that the escrow service is fake; it’ll have an official-looking website with plenty of logos and endorsements, but it will all be fraudulent. The seller will have given you a web-based email address and a mobile phone number, which leaves them untraceable – and because the escrow service is not the real deal, you won’t be able to trace the seller through that either.

Any legitimate escrow service will be registered with Companies House, while it will also have full contact details on the website. These will include a land line phone number and email address; contact them via both and make sure you get satisfactory responses. If you’re still unsure, contact Trading Standards and ask them if they’ve had any complaints about this service.