Rebecca and Simon Gregory were on a long weekend away in Disneyland Paris when the first stranger rang the doorbell at their two-bedroom home in Littlehampton, West Sussex.
The couple, who are in their 30s, knew it wasn’t a friend or relative thanks to their ‘smart’ doorbell, which beams CCTV images from their front door in the seaside town to their mobile phones.
After briefly watching a man wandering around on their porch looking confused, the couple started to get concerned.
Desirable: The VW Transporter has gained a cult following in recent years, which has led to it becoming Britain’s most scammed vehicle
But then another stranger turned up. And another. And another.
Rebecca started to get worried. What on earth was attracting so many people to their home 300 miles away?
The merchandising account director asked her mother, Davina, 62, who lives nearby, to pop round and investigate.
When Davina reported back, Rebecca was gobsmacked. Every one of their unexpected visitors had turned up for the same reason: to collect a Volkswagen Transporter van they’d bought on eBay.
Davina had politely explained that there was no way her daughter and her husband could be selling a VW Transporter. They simply didn’t own one.
In total, about 13 eBay buyers turned up to find only the couple’s Ford Fiesta on the driveway.
And they were still arriving when Rebecca, 35, and Simon, 38, returned home two days later.
Each buyer had put down £2,000 to £3,000 as a deposit on a VW Transporter listed for sale on eBay. They had then been given Rebecca and Simon’s address to collect the van.
One couple had driven several hundred miles.
Others had booked hotels. One had spent five hours on a train from Liverpool.
Alarmed: Rebecca and Simon Gregory discovered their address had been used in a scam when people began turning up on their doorstep asking for their vans
Most were furious when they found out the van they thought they’d bought didn’t exist. In short, they had all fallen victim to the most common vehicle fraud in Britain today: the fake second-hand VW Transporter van scam.
The Transporter — especially the fifth-generation T5 models, which were built between 2003 and 2015 — has gained a cult following.
It’s a cheap but cheerful commercial vehicle ripe for converting into a campervan which you can travel and sleep in, thanks to its size and workhorse engine.
Social media is awash with videos of how to convert them on a shoestring.
But that popularity has also alerted fraudsters.
In fact, VW Transporter fraud is now so common that a dedicated Facebook page with 3,500 members has been set up to track down dodgy adverts.
According to fraud expert Jack Buster, who runs Action Scam, a group which helps victims recover money, many of the phony VW Transporter adverts are recycled and used numerous times.
He says vans carrying the same number plates appear repeatedly on eBay and Facebook Marketplace, hooking in dozens of buyers at a time.
‘Some of the photos being used on these adverts are often eight or nine years’ old,’ he says. ‘They are a scammer’s goldmine.’
Happy campers: The VW T5 is a popular choice for DIY camper vans with social media awash with videos of how to convert them on a shoestring
Victims are encouraged to send money — or at least an initial deposit — by bank transfer before they pick up the vehicle in person.
The seller then either goes cold and ignores any further messages, or provides a fake address for collection in order to give their ruse the appearance of legitimacy.
The string of strangers who appeared on Rebecca and Simon’s doorstep had all been taken in by the same fake listing on eBay. Collectively, they lost as much as £40,000.
The couple say they had to break the news to victims over and over again. ‘With some people you could tell by their expressions they couldn’t afford to lose that kind of money,’ she says. ‘It was really upsetting for us.’
Last year, cases of online vehicle scams referred to Action Fraud, the reporting body, were up 21 pc on the level recorded in 2019.
And the VW Transporter dominates the scam listings, Mr Buster says.
It frequently came out top in polls ranking the most popular second-hand vans.
Its popularity boomed during the pandemic as travel restrictions gave more people the longing for campervan holidays in the UK.
A second-hand VW T5 in good condition can easily be sold for more than £10,000 after prices shot up by £1,294 in a year, according to online car marketplace AutoTrader.
Fake ads, which usually involve scammers listing vans for a much lower — yet still plausible — price can attract dozens of buyers who think they’re securing a bargain.
Elliott Boddy, who runs Travelin‑Lite, a business that sells Transporter parts, says: ‘It’s often people new to the VW scene who fall victim to these scams.
‘People buying their first one are most vulnerable.
‘Tell-tale signs are the vans being listed too cheap for the model being sold. In recent years, I have frequently seen the same vans used in adverts.’
Kim Rees and Tim Barrett, both 51, paid £2,650 for a VW that turned out not to exist, after having seen an advert on eBay.
Fraudsters’ favourite: VW Transporter fraud is now so common that a dedicated Facebook page with 3,500 members has been set up to track down dodgy adverts
The 2006 T5 model was listed as having 77,000 miles on the clock, with collection from an address in Bicester, Oxfordshire.
The couple, from Shaftesbury, Dorset, wanted the van to use for Tim’s job as a self-employed carpenter. After registering their interest on eBay, they spoke to the ‘seller’ on the phone and were persuaded to pay a deposit via bank transfer.
Kim says: ‘The seller sounded so genuine on the phone, so we paid the £1,000 deposit.
‘But then he called to say he would have to refund the money as he had found another buyer who would pay the full amount.
‘So we paid the full £2,650 for fear of losing out. As soon as we got to the address, I knew something was wrong. The house didn’t look like the one in the advert.’
Kim and Tim’s bank, NatWest — with whom they have been customers for more than 30 years — has refused to cover their loss as it insists the couple were ‘negligent’ in buying a vehicle without seeing it first.
Had the couple paid via eBay — as opposed to a direct bank transfer — they would have been covered by the site’s money-back guarantee.
Facebook doesn’t offer a built-in payment service, meaning shoppers are forced to send money directly via bank transfer.
That leaves them without the protections against fraud offered by PayPal or credit and debit cards, where the payment provider can be forced to step in and cover losses.
Action Scam’s Mr Buster, who battles banks on behalf of fraud victims, told Money Mail of a case where a man suffering from cancer was scammed by a Transporter advert.
The man was frequently being treated overnight in Leeds General Infirmary despite living 150 miles away in Blackburn, Lancashire. He wanted a VW Transporter T5 so his immediate family could travel with him and stay in it while he was treated.
He lost £10,000 after falling for a fake advert and paying in full.
Mr Buster’s Facebook group is filled with victims who have turned into sleuths to help others avoid the same fate, sharing details of scam adverts and attempting to get them shut down.
Mr Buster says: ‘eBay and Facebook Marketplace are head and shoulders above the others for the sheer volume of fraudulent vehicle adverts.
‘These platforms need to shut down the adverts faster.’
He says the best way to avoid falling victim to vehicle fraud is by never buying anything you haven’t seen in person.
If that is not possible, he recommends asking the seller for a video phone call — via Zoom or FaceTime, for example — where they can give you a live tour of the vehicle. ‘It must be a live video because pre-recorded videos can be stolen from genuine sellers and used by fraudsters,’ says Mr Buster.
Facebook says if a user sees signs of suspicious activity, they should immediately cancel the transaction and report the listing to the site as a fake.
An eBay spokesman says: ‘Thousands of our users buy and sell vehicles on eBay safely and successfully every day.
‘Always view the vehicle in person before handing over any money.
‘If any of your readers have been a victim of fraud, they should report it to eBay, Action Fraud and their local police force immediately.’
Five tips to spot fake adverts
1. view the vehicle in person
You can also ask the seller for a live video call. Pre-recorded videos won’t work as they could also be stolen from a genuine advert.
2. Avoid bank transfers
Using the second-hand site’s own payment platform often comes with better protection.
3. Reverse Google search
Google has a feature that allows you to drag images into the search bar and see where they have been used before, which can help you identify a scam advert.
4. Be suspicious of low prices
Fake adverts usually list the vehicle for a price much lower than the average. Do your research.
5. Don’t panic
Scammers use tricks to rush you into a decision — such as making up another potential buyer. Be wary if the seller is applying a lot of pressure.