7 On Your Side: Car scam costs New Jersey teen her life savings

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7 On Your Side's Nina Pineda reports on a familiar car scam.

An online car buyer was left empty handed in a new twist on a familiar scam, one that left a New Jersey teenager heartbroken and disillusioned after seeing her life savings vanish in an instant.

Lauren Trusio was allowed to get her first set of wheels when she turned 17, on the condition that she worked to pay for it herself. So she worked her tail off at a summer camp and town pool seven days a week, saving up for that car. But she and her mom made one big mistake that taught them a very valuable lesson.

"My heart sank," Trusio said. "I was, like, wow, we just lost all that money, all my money. I was upset."

It was $4,000 gone in 60 seconds, after they learned the Honda CRV her mom found on Craigslist -- that Trusio fell in love with -- was a phony.

"I feel very foolish," mom Elaine Trusio said. "Especially since I'm the adult here, and it was my daughter's money."

The ad for the hybrid SUV was posted by a someone who claimed to be a female active-duty Marine.

"I felt that they were in the military, and I could trust them more," Lauren Trusio said. "Why would someone lie to someone who's in the military?"

The ad offered free shipping from North Carolina and -- the first red flag -- a low, too-good-to-be-true price for the loaded Honda.

They jumped on it, and Elaine got an email link to a payment page -- the second red flag. Experts say never to trust emailed links to websites, as the scam-soldier had doctored the link to look like an eBay payment page.

The third red flag is that Craigslist seller pretending to accept payment through eBay would only accept payment via wiring cash through Moneygram.

Thousands of dollars later, emails with the seller were bouncing back. And the car, not surprisingly, never arrived as promised.

Lauren did wind up getting a car when she turned 17, but this experience was an expensive lesson. And the big takeaways are to never wire money and don't trust emailed links to payment pages. Instead, go to the website directly.

And if you are buying on the internet, try to deal with local sellers you can meet in a safe place to see the item before you buy.
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