I'm posting this topic as I've been seeing an increasing amount of people getting scammed through marketplace ads in the past few weeks. I have been investigating this quite extensively and wanted to share with you what I found out, and at the same time warn you all to be careful sending money to strangers.
Note: in this topic, I'm specifically talking about online scams. Where you pay for a game and then nothing is shipped.
What we found so far
This appears to be one scammer, male. But more people could be involved.
Scammer has been around for a long time and not just operating on Pinside. Also via Mr. Pinball (confirmed) and probably Craigslist and Facebook too.
Scammer will mostly target "wanted" ads, as they know that posting an ad themselves will quickly get them noticed by our systems and by many alert Pinsiders, who will contact me or moderators about a suspicious ad (thanks to all who do!)
Scammer likes to target newbies. There seems to be a pattern where all the folks who got scammed are all pretty new to Pinside. This makes sense.
Scammer will quickly try to move communication off of Pinside. So they will start out via PM, then ask you for an e-mail address to post photos to. Then communication will continue via e-mail and, without going into details too much, this hurts our abilities to detect said scammers.
Scammer will even ask for your phone number to talk about a game. He'll take his time. He knows his stuff. Knows the available mods. Knows the ins and outs. This guy is probably a pinball enthusiast in some form, or he has been absorbing Pinside knowledge for years. He likely uses burner phones.
He will arrange for his game to picked up via a reputable shipping company. E.g. via Michelle @ STI. He will give them a fake pickup address. All to win your trust: "look, here's the shipping arrangements I made". This goes as far as to let STI come to the house for pickup, where they will find folks who "know nothing about any pinball machine".
Scammer will try to get you to pay via wire or (preferably) via Paypal Friends and Family. This is a huge red flag as both methods will remove any protection you have. Some people were offered to pay in several instalments. I suspect not to raise any flags with Paypal?
Scammer may use Pinside accounts that have been registered, then left dormant for some time. So it won't always be a <10 day newbie account.
Scammer has no problem paying $5 to get verified as a real user. They use a range of (hacked?) verified Paypal accounts.
Scammer will participate on Pinside. He will post in many topics. Often simple one-liners. But he's actively trying to look real.
How not to get scammed
The best way to avoid getting scammed is to buy in person, cash on the glass. However, we recently had a report of someone being robbed at gunpoint, when picking up a bunch of machines. That was the first time I ever heard of something like that happening, but it's something to keep in mind.
But in this topic, I'm specifically talking about online scams. Where you pay for a game and then nothing is shipped.
It is always advisable to look at someone's feedback/rating. Go to a Pinsiders profile page and click the "feedback" tab. Does the user have any feedback from previous sales? Was this feedback placed by reputable Pinsiders? You can quickly find the trustworthy sellers on Pinside via this system.
One of our members, Vid1900, wrote a great guide on how not to get ripped off buying/selling pinball machines. Both in-person as well as shipped sales.
Here is a link with all of his advice, brought together in one read:
There is a lot of information in there, please read what applies to your case. Or better, read it all.
TL;DR The best way of purchasing a pinball machine online is by using a proper escrow service, e.g. Escrow.com
Who is this guy
A lot of the information above applies to generally all scammers. But obviously a scammer from Nigeria may not get on the phone so easily to talk to you. And probably not be as knowledgeable. Certainly not all scammers build active Pinside accounts (i.e. actively participating on the site to build credibility).
The recent scammer has been using Pinside to scam people for quite some time. I've tracked several dozen accounts that all link back to this same scammer. He scammed tens of thousands of dollars over the years.
This particular scammer will actively participate on Pinside. Wanna see how? Here's one of his accounts forum posting history: https://pinside.com/pinball/community/pinsiders/pham78/forum
What baffles me is that he was even trying to buy parts for a Black Rose pinball machine and also an old Bally drop target assembly. This suggests that this guy is a pinball collector himself. Or was he just trying to fool Pinside staff into thinking "surely, someone actively purchasing pinball parts cannot be a scammer?"
Heck, this is a long shot, but maybe someone actually knows this guy? I have also found a link between this scammer and a site for airguns (airguns.net) as well as a site for archery (bowsite.com). If this sounds like anyone you may know, get in touch! The sooner we identify this guy, the better.
I've been told by one of the scammed people that the FBI is now involved in this matter, so hopefully this pinball scammer will soon be in jail.
Steps Pinside is taking
The battle with scammers is ongoing. It has been for many years. I actively try to implement measures, they will find ways around it. It's always a tradeoff because we don't want to scare off legitimate pinball newbies into the hobby (and there are many, Pinside signs up around 30-40 new members per day).
I hardly ever publish these changes/countermeasures (for obvious reasons).
The scams often seem to come in waves. It will be quiet for a while, then the scammer(s) will return with new ways and methods. In the past I have deactivated marketplace ads placing for <1yr accounts, I have imposed limits on PM sending and more. But obviously, these measures also hurt legitimate pinheads.
I'm going to place prominent links to this topic on various sections of the site.
I have also been sparring ideas with some people, trying to come up with ideas how we could make online pinball trading safer. There are some great plans already. PM me, if you have ideas about this.
Note: Feel free to chime in here, but please note that this topic will get linked to from our "new user warning" message. So please keep it on topic and free of useless remarks. Being a high profile and frontpage stickied topic, I have put this in post approval mode.