O’FALLON, Mo. – It won’t be long before we’re back on the water, soaking up that summer sun. Rachel Johnson can’t wait.
“It’s just a comfortable spot. That’s where our family gets together. Weekends. Camping. It’s a family thing,” she said.
Rachel and her husband wanted to kick the family fun up a notch this year with a new boat. They found an interesting offer on Craigslist.
“This one popped up. It seemed to be a really good deal. Exactly what we were looking for,” she said.
The seller told her a third-party shipping company in O’Fallon, Missouri would process the $13,000 sale and deliver the boat to Rachel’s home in western Kentucky.
“My husband and I farm. We deal with big machinery purchases from across the country all the time,” Johnson said. “It’s not unusual to wire money for a big machinery purchase and have it brought to you.”
From her emails with the seller to the company’s website and invoice, Rachel says there were no red flags.
“Nothing really popped up as unusual until afterwards when I was trying to contact them, and no one would answer the phone and, of course, the boat didn’t show up when it was supposed to show up.” Johnson said.
Days later, the shipping company’s website was gone, and so was the Johnson’s money.
“It’s that pit in your stomach feeling. it’s also that sense of embarrassment. How could someone have gotten this over on me?” Johnson said.
Better Business Bureau investigator Rebecca Phoenix says the company’s now-defunct website went live in January. It wasn’t long before the complaints came rolling in.
“They were using a name very similar to an O’Fallon, Missouri business that goes by virtually the same name,” Phoenix said. “But that business says it has nothing to do with this bogus online business.”
The phony company’s St. Charles County address is actually used as a garage for the City of O’Fallon. Phoenix says catching these scammers isn’t easy for law enforcement, but it’s not impossible. In 2019, a task force in Kentucky busted an organized crime group accused of millions of dollars in online auction fraud.
“They were able to get indictments and convictions on several people operating in eastern Europe,” Phoenix said.
The culprit in the Johnson’s case may never be brought to justice; that’s why Rachel is sharing her story.
“I’m just hoping this saves someone else from going through the same grief,” she said.
Always be wary if an item online is priced below market value. If you can see the item in person, in a safe place, before you buy that’s ideal. Check to see when the website was created. If it’s new, it could be a front for scammers.