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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Buy It Later: A Short Story - Part 1

The following several posts are my attempt to cross the last several weeks of our life with a shor story format. I'll write a section each day and post it like a normal blog, but will try to keep your attention with clif hanger style endings. I hope you enjoy my story I've titled "Buy It Later".

I got home from work last night later than normal. It was about 6:00 and I rushed to preheat the oven to 450 so I could put the frozen french fries in and the grill started before my family got home. I spoke to my wife on the way home and she was having a rough day with a headache and two boys who always seem to find ways of annoying her. I was glad to hear that they found a bicycle for my oldest son Jake. Though he was getting close to outgrowing his previous bike, we weren't replacing it because of a sudden growth spurt, instead we were replacing it because with the garage door left open for a couple of hours one evening, someone walked in our garage and walked out with the bike.

There were certainly better things in the garage to steal than a kids bike, but it still made us feel a little unsafe for a few days. I was just glad to get dinner going and was looking forward to watching a movie with the family. I was so preoccupied with everything that I forgot to check the 2 messages flashing on the machine. When everyone got home I remembered the flashing number two and hit play while my wife and I leaned over the counter listening for the message we hoped would be there.

"Hi this is (someone) from US Bank. I need you to call me right away. I'll be in the office until 7:30 tonight so please call. This is kind of an emergency, so please call."

I half grinned at my wife as I dialed because I could somehow tell by the confusion and urgency in her voice that the emergency wasn't as bad as she thought it was.

It was a couple of weeks ago that we began talking about selling our 4Runner and buying a newer vehicle. True, the Toyota only had 70,000 miles on it, a mere teenager as far as Toyotas go, but a 1990 Toyota was pretty old regardless of low mileage, so we agreed we'd try to sell it privately, take the money we got and look for a steal of a deal on a low mileage, 2-3 year old vehicle.

We'd talked at length about a Chevy Uplander, and my wife had been tracking several eBay auctions hoping to catch one that didn't sell in the auction so she could negotiate a good deal afterward, so I was surprised when she showed me a Toyota Sienna she liked. Regardless, the price was incredible so I said follow it and see if you can get it for that price.

Buy It Now said $12,500 for a 2006 with 30,000 miles and absolutely loaded, but when she went back to find the auction a message appeared that said the auction had been removed by either the seller or eBay. But then she got an email from the seller answering a few of the questions she had earlier asked and a note saying that the auction was pulled because someone was going to Buy It Now, but then was unable to put together the money, so he was still interested in selling it. The vehicle was in Texas, but he would ship it to us if we didn't want to drive to get it.

Tuesday, a few more questions and answers were exchanged and phone numbers and a phone call to solidify the deal. We would run the sale through eBay so we could both be protected.

Later that evening, we got an email confirming from eBay that we won the auction from the seller and it gave us instructions on how to proceed. We were to wire money into an account that eBay would hold in escrow for us for 30 days. We would have 15 days from when we received the car to evaluate it and make sure it was what we thought we were buying, then we would wire the balance of the money into the account to complete the transaction and the seller could then withdraw the money.

Wednesday morning came with some excitement as we were anticipating getting a great deal on a great vehicle. We both agreed the price seemed almost unbelievable, but the seller confided in us that he was selling it because he needed the cash bad to help a serious cash flow problem with a restaurant he owned that was failing and he was about to lose. “Sounds like a lot of my clients”, I thought. Maybe after business was done, I’d refer him to his local SBDC office, but first, I want his car.

My wife went down to US Bank to wire the money off to this account with eBay’s corporate address on it. It seemed a little odd that it had some guy’s name attached to it, so she asked the banker if it was normal for a business account to have an individual’s name on it and she was assured it was.

“I’d hate to be the guy with my name on the account for eBay” she remarked as the details of wiring the money were settled.

My wife returned home and started going about the rest of her day when she had a strange feeling that something wasn’t right. She went upstairs to our office and started poking around eBay’s site. She saw mention of an email address that you could send an email you believed to have come from eBay, but weren’t sure and they would verify it for you. She forwarded the “you won the auction” email and waited for the reply.

At the same time, I was down town shaking hands and passing out business cards at the Small Business Outreach. Shifting my weight back and forth as my legs were starting to hurt from standing on the hard floors all day, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket and excused myself from the conversation I was in to answer it. It was my wife. She sounded like she was about to cry.

“I think I lost $8,000” she said as her voice quivered.


“I’m trying to get a hold of the bank, but I think our money is gone. The email didn’t come from eBay. It’s a fraud. I’ll call you when I know something.”

Come back tomorrow for more of "Buy It Later"