*This article was originally published in November 2018, before being updated in April 2022 to provide more advice considering the growth in fraud resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

We’ve all heard the phrase; “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is” but the fraudsters are getting even more advanced about how they can convince you otherwise.

What recent boat scams have we seen?

Boat scammers are using increasingly sophisticated technologies and methods to trick people out of their money. One of the most recent examples we have seen has been a site built to impersonate Summerborn Boats, a now inactive company. The site was built professionally with the originally registered companynumber and address listed to try and make it harder to differentiate from a scam.

How do they do it?

Once they had setup the page and impersonated the company, they stole a considerable amount of marketing material including an array of boat listings from multiple genuine brokers (including ourselves). They advertised the boats for a considerably lower price to pique interest. One of these was a Sealine 255 that we had sold on behalf of a customer previously.

To understand their process better, we tested them by posting an enquiry to the website for the “boat for sale”. The offer provided back to us by Summerborn did seem attractive, with a minimal delivery cost and 12 month warranty on the boat.

This is all quite convincing until:

  1. they advise the boats cannot be viewed due to staff shortages;
  2. they request a 60% “fully refundable” deposit to be paid, at which point they promise to deliver the boat within 2-3 days, providing a 48 hour inspection period during which you can return the boat to them.

Coupled with this, that they didn’t personalise their emails with names, or provide a phone number, which made it clearer that it was likely to be a scam.

What’s happened?

The fake website noticed above was live for a month before brokers such as ourselves became aware of it. Having reported it to Action Fraud and Google, it has now been made inactive.

But the risk that copy-cat sites will appear is large.

If I see something like this, what can I do?

One of the best ways to report fraud in progress is to notify Action Fraud (https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/) and your local trading office (https://www.gov.uk/find-local-trading-standards-office).

If you’re a member of a boating forum, it might be a good idea to give the community a warning too, which is what happened in the case above.

Are boat scams on the rise due to Covid-19?

Fraudsters have used the pandemic as an opportunity to make significant sums of money through illegal methods, and the fallout of this has made headlines. For instance, in February 2022, HMRC was accused of “ignorance and inaction” on recouping more than £6bn of fraudulent support payments made during this time.

The pandemic has certainly accelerated the growth in digital transactions across every industry, including the boating sector, and the knock-on effect of that was a sharp rise in online fraud. For instance, a June 2021 study from consumer rights group Which? said that cases of fraud rose by a third in 2020, reaching more than 410,000.

From conversations we have had with our colleagues and friends across the industry, we understand that boat scams have increased quite dramatically.

Today’s most popular boat scams

Suspicious bargains: As we said at the beginning of this blog, “if it is too good to be true, it probably is”. A quality boat is an expensive investment, and many prospective owners will be looking to get the biggest bang for their buck. Whilst it is natural to be drawn to a bargain, if the vessel is listed at well below the retail price, then this could have been listed online by a boat scammer. If you see a model you like, it is worthwhile checking the price of the same model on other websites. Of course, you can expect the price to fluctuate depending on the age, condition and specification, but it is important to apply common sense – and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Protecting yourself against phishing: Phishing is an email scam where it seems you have received a message from a legitimate source – such as HMRC, PayPal or even established retailers – that asks you to log into your account to conduct a transaction. In fact, the link within the email is to a fake website, where the scammers look to steal your personal information. If you’re conducting a private purchase, then be sure to carefully check the email address the messages are coming from. Here are some useful steps on how to spot phishing.

Requesting funds upfront: Be suspicious of requests to pay money up-front, especially if you’re dealing with someone over the internet or via social media (see the fake Summerborn story above). This is a popular tactic deployed by boat scammers.

Val Wyatt’s golden rules for buying a boat safely:

  • View the boat you are interested in before paying any money whenever possible. No seller will stop you from viewing a boat. If you are told you can’t view the boat, walk away.
  • Speak to the seller. Many scam websites are based overseas and will not provide a phone number. They like to operate via email only. In the Summerborn case, they do not sign off they emails with individual names.
  • Buy through an established or recommended broker. Brokers who belong to established bodies like British Marine’s “Boat Retailers & Brokers Association” have standards of conduct and regulations that must be upheld by members which offer additional protection to you.
  • Ask to have a survey. As well as highlighting potential problems, this will usually make fraudulent sellers nervous so they will often cease contact with you.
  • Make sure that correct title documents are available. Even if you have seen the boat, having the correct title documents and knowing the person is the legal owner is very important. If you have a professional broker that you trust they will be able to help you with this for a fixed fee.
  • Perform checks when being asked for a deposit. If you want to hold a boat and you are asked for a deposit, check that this is refundable, if any conditions apply and that you are definitely dealing with the right person.
  • Confirm bank details verbally. If you have received bank details for a company via email do double check these verbally as interception fraud can also occur.
  • If in doubt, walk away. You may lose a bargain, but you will also avoid being the victim of a boat scam.

If you’re looking to buy a boat, either new or used, please feel free to contact our team by filling out this form, or calling 01182 170527. You can also check our article about the advantages of buying a boat from a broker.