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How to avoid scammers when buying vehicles abroad

vehicles, import vehicles, second-hand car ban, ZIMRA, Ministry of Transport, ex-Jap radio, clearance, clear, import scam, second-hand car import fee

The internet has made it simple and seamless to visit an online retail store, browse through its goods, add one or two products of your choice to a shopping cart, and click to buy. But with simplicity comes bigger challenges, topping the list is security concerns. Zimbabwe is no longer a car assembling country and is now a home for the Japanese second-hand vehicles destination of choice. With the Japanese new car market and the majority of transactions being executed on the internet, either through bank transfer, TT or direct credit card payment. This is now producing new types of bogus dealers and cybercriminals who are now employing new tactics to cheat used motor vehicle importers.

This type of cyber attack has had cybercriminals hack into importer’s or dealers email systems to monitor transactions. They then intercept the communication between a customer and a genuine car dealer. After collecting all the communication info between the two, they are able to mislead a client by corresponding with a fake email that looks just like that of the genuine dealer.

They then hijack the communication channels and continue communicating until they eventually provide the potential client with a fraudulent invoice reflecting the cybercriminals bank account. Once they accomplish this, the used car importer will use this misleading information to make payments for the ordered vehicle(s) unaware that he is remitting money to a cyber criminals’ bank account.

All Zimbabwe’s importers of used motor vehicles from Japan must remember to do their due diligence and be extremely cautious and wary due to these common trends. While many vehicle online sellers are legitimate, unfortunately, cybercriminals are also using the anonymous nature of the internet to rip off unsuspecting importers.

Cybercriminals use the latest technology to set up fake vehicle selling websites that look like genuine online sellers. They use the same sophisticated designs and layouts, logos, and even similar domain names. Many of these websites offer luxury vehicles at very low prices. Sometimes you will receive the item you paid for but the vehicle will not be the one that you would have paid for, other times you will receive nothing at all.

Using a different cyber scam, clients will pay a genuine car dealer after identifying and negotiating a preferred vehicle on a dealer’s website. Once, the money is paid, the criminal will hack and monitor the client’s email account and then contact the car dealer using a hijacked email account to provide a fake consignee name and address. This imported vehicle paid for by a genuine customer will end up being shipped and delivered to a cyber-criminal.

The worst-case scenario is if a cybercriminal will hijack and/or intercept a buyer’s email account pretending that they are the genuine vehicle importer who is no longer interested in buying and importing the vehicle for whatever reasons. The fake “buyer” then demand that the payment be remitted back to the buyer and the refund will be deposited into fraudulent bank accounts. In all cases, the client and dealer need to understand that once the payment has been made their remittances to a fraudulent bank account, there is no chance of ever recovering the funds.
To protect yourself from such cyber attacks:-

  • If the vehicle prices are too cheap or too good to be true then they are scammers
  • Please avoid using a gmail, yahoo or hotmail, these free mails because these are what are called high risk emails targeted by hackers.
  • Always use familiar websites.
  • Do not ever share, most cyber attacks are done by those close to us.
  • Avoid using easy passwords for your email account.
  • Make sure there is regular physical conversation through phone calls, WhatsApp or any other communication between the sellers or car dealers regarding the invoice and bank details.
  • Make it a habit to maintain regular telephone communication with your genuine Japanese suppliers to confirm the information transmitted by email regarding the invoices and the correct bank account
  • Avoid using internet cafes or public wifi.
  • Always logout from your email accounts if you are forced to use public wifi and Internet Cafè’s
  • Use your mobile device it is the safest mode of transacting.
  • Make sure the seller has a refund or returns policy, and that their policies sound fair.

By, Engineer Jacob Kudzayi Mutisi

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