An ad placed in The Ellsworth American and other publications around the state advertised a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454, like the above that appears on a vintage car website, for sale for $14,500. It turns out the ad was placed fraudulently and the sale was actually a scam, according to police. MUSCLECARSZONE.COM

New scam targets muscle car fans



ELLSWORTH — A local resident narrowly avoided losing thousands of dollars in what police describe as a scam involving a fancy set of wheels and classified ads paid for with a stolen credit card.

The vehicle in question is a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454. Photos of the vehicle show a sharp-looking red car with twin black stripes on the hood. The ad, which ran in publications around Maine, including The Ellsworth American, touts that the vehicle was “never in an accident.”

At an asking price of $14,500, it seemed too good to be true — a reliable sign that it isn’t true.

An online search shows similar models selling for at least three times that price, with many in the $50,000 to $100,000 range. Ellsworth Police Detective Dotty Small said that turned out to be a scam.

The story begins when the local resident in question saw the ad in The American and called the number listed in the ad. Although the number has a 207 area code, its 558 exchange is listed on the Maine Office of the Public Advocate’s website as one used by cell phones (meaning the person answering the phone could be anywhere).

Small said the woman who answered the phone identified herself as “Cynthia Elder.” She told the man how her husband had died and that she was looking to sell the car. Elder told the man he needed to make a wire transfer for $14,500 to an address on London Bridge Street in London via an online service called PaySAFE.

The man made it as far as a local bank in Ellsworth and was prepared to make the transfer when an alert employee there advised him that once the money was sent out of the country he would have no recourse — which prompted him to reconsider.

The local man contacted PaySAFE’s office in Winnebago, Neb., and Small said staff there told him “they had hundreds of calls” about that particular vehicle. While PaySAFE is a real entity, Small said, the ad for the Chevy Chevelle is a scam.

Indeed, an online search reveals the same ad — the contact information changes, but the description is always the same, including the “never in an accident” reference — has run and is still running in publications around the country.

After his conversation with PaySAFE, the man contacted police.

Small said the man had done his homework — he had asked for, and received, photos of the vehicle as well as copies of a title certificate and other paperwork.

“It looked really legitimate,” Small said.

However, she cautioned that in any transaction of that size the seller should be able to see the actual item for sale and verify that it (and the seller) really exists.

“If you can’t put your hands on the car, or if you can’t see it,” she said, “don’t do it.”

Small said although “Cynthia Elder” sounded legitimate to the man who saw the ad and responded to it, she suspects the woman was somewhere overseas. The email address associated with the ad is a gmail.com address, which can be accessed from any computer around the world.

Small said whoever placed the ad used a stolen credit card number that originally belonged to an Ellsworth resident. She said the number was likely compromised in a data breach somewhere, and then sold by scammers. She said the numbers are often then used in the same area they originated from so as to not arouse suspicion.

The ad placed in The American was submitted via the paper’s online submission form. Small said she did not see how the paper could have known the ad was fraudulent in advance, given that whoever placed it had all of the information needed to use the credit card — including the real owner’s name and address.

Small said the man who almost was scammed wanted others to know about his experience so that they could avoid falling for the tempting offer, too.

Small said she has seen many scams, but this is the first time she has seen a particular scenario like this.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.
Steve Fuller

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