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Craiglist car scheme costs Bay Area mom

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Ashlee Tripp thought she got lucky, finding a white 2005 Honda with low mileage, instead she was the victim of a popular internet scam. Ashlee Tripp thought she got lucky, finding a white 2005 Honda with low mileage, instead she was the victim of a popular internet scam.
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

Ashlee Tripp thought she'd found a deal when she came across the white 2005 Honda Accord on Craigslist.

The 27-year-old mother of two was looking for a reliable, low-mileage used car at a good price. But almost a month later, Tripp is out $2,000 and heartbroken over being pulled into what now appears to be an online fraud scheme.

"I should have known now that I think about it," said Tripp, has been taking the bus and borrowing her parents' truck to get to and from school.  "But I guess I was just so excited about having a car that decent."

Tripp's story sounds familiar to FBI special agent Dave Couvertier, who says auto auction fraud is a booming business.

"This particular scenario is pretty much textbook," Couvertier said.

Tripp said after she found the car in an ad on Craigslist, she corresponded by email with someone under the name "Debra Stevens" who said she would sell her the car through Ebay. Tripp got some official-looking documents with an Ebay logo on them, and sent almost $2,000 to Texas via a Moneygram.

Its unclear who Tripp was actually corresponding with by email.  In some schemes, those perpetrating the fraud take over or "hijack" legitimate ads under the names of real people, even creating fake email addresses.

Tripp said she later contacted Ebay directly when she hadn't gotten a confirmation on the car, and found out she would have had to have an account to make a purchase through the site.

"That was the first red flag and the second red flag was they don't even work through Moneygram," Tripp said.

The money sent to Houston was picked up, but could be hard to trace.

In scenarios like this, Couvertier said the person picking up the money in a designated location may not be connected to the larger scheme, aside from being hired for an errand.

"When we follow the money, it actually doesn't bring us back to the United States for the most part," he said. "It actually takes us to other countries, the UK, for example, Nigeria, Romania, South Africa."

Auto auction fraud cost consumers nationwide $8.2 million in 2011, Couvertier said. Florida's portion of that bill is significant: $481,711.

When shopping online for a big purchase like a car, Couvertier said consumers should be wary if the seller doesn't want you to see the vehicle, or if they create a sense of urgency by indicating you might miss out on the deal if you don't act fast.

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