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‘Everyone’s against me:’ Homeless veteran with PTSD scammed while trying to buy a vehicle

Spirit Padilla

WEST ALLIS -- He served his country, and while trying to get back on his feet, what he thought was a step in the right direction turned out to be a big setback.

"I'm trying to get my life back together," said Spirit Padilla.

Padilla is a United States Air Force veteran.

"I was deployed to Panama as well as to Desert Storm," said Padilla.

FOX6's Contact 6 agreed to meet him at the Urban Joe Cafe in West Allis for an interview because he is homeless and living in a transitional facility -- eager to change that status.

"More homeless than not the last three years," said Padilla. "Needing to get back to work and to be a productive member of society."

In order to do that, he needed a car. On the website Letgo, Padilla found a 2002 Toyota Tacoma -- just $1,500 for a truck that looked brand new.

"For the price, I was like, holy moly. Her husband had died and he was a military member and she was having bad memories of the vehicle being around, so she just wanted to get rid of it," said Padilla.

He expressed interest and got an email from the seller, saying, "I want to use eBay Services for the safety of both of us" for the transaction. Padilla paid for the vehicle by emailing copies of eBay gift cards to what he thought was eBay's Buyer Protection program.

It was a scam.

"Trying to accomplish my own personal situations and overcome some PTSD that I suffer from, it just put me right back in that mode of, everyone's against me," said Padilla.

An eBay spokesman said the transaction, "Did not take place on eBay. Criminals often exploit well-known, trusted brands like eBay to attract customers and then lure them onto fake websites and into fraudulent transactions."

"Never buy a car without inspecting it first, without seeing it face-to-face," said Jim Temmer with the Better Business Bureau.

Temmer said red flags include prices that are too good to be true, being asked to pay with gift cards or Green Dot cards and being pressured into a quick decision.

Jim Temmer

"It's these scammers playing on your emotions by giving you a good deal and giving you a sob story," said Temmer.

Letgo officials said, "We immediately blocked the fraudulent user from our app and recommended filing a police report. Our team is here to help police with their investigation. Something like this is extremely rare on our marketplace."

Padilla said his experience left him feeling as numb as the freezing rain on his walk to the bus, but hoped it wouldn't be a permanent setback.

"At first I was upset, and then I was just upset with myself more than anything," said Padilla.

FOX6's Contact 6 often hears the same stories from scammers about the reason for "too good to be true" prices -- like they're moving, being deployed, getting deployed or someone died. From 2014-2017, the FBI received early 27,000 complaints about the fraudulent online sale of cars, RVs, boats and other outdoor equipment amounting to more than $54 million in losses.

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