In February this year, I was the victim of a humiliatingly rudimentary scam. In fact, saying scam probably lends what happened to me an undeserved kudos, as if the scammer was a snappily dressed confidence trickster who stole my heart before stealing my savings. What I fell for was essentially a crude rip off facilitated by the presence of a single faked document, carried out by a man wearing Crocs and a tracksuit. I'm glad it happened. In fact, it's probably the best thing that happened to me all year.
In all, it probably took him about twenty minutes to get £1,800 out of my pocket and have me thanking him for the experience. It cost me hard cash, days of frustrated anguish and put me worryingly close to the wheels of an articulated lorry. It was a minor con and I don't want to make light of the trauma suffered by victims of more sophisticated scams.
The path to getting scammed didn't start with an email, or a phone call. It started when my car was written off, leaving me in need of a quick replacement. After a few days of online browsing, poking around on the free bit of Parkers.co.uk and phone haggling, I became the proud new owner of a reassuringly mundane 8-year-old Nissan Primera.
I like mundane cars. I don't mean to brag, but this one had 10-month's MOT and a full service history. A full service history, as anyone will tell you, is a must-have for used cars.
So when the car broke down for the seventh time in two months, I began to question the integrity of this full service history, Nissan holograms notwithstanding. The service book was real. The stamps were real too, but as I found out later the work listed wasn't. The car was a disaster waiting to happen. Ostensibly it was fine, even the test drive was a study in smooth refinement and Japanese reliability, but the engine computer had a glitch that would intermittently rob the car of some of its more sought-after features, such as braking and accelerating.
I did all the checks possible. The car was as clean as a whistle, it wasn't suspiciously cheap, it was the ultimate car for people who don't really care about cars and just want something cheap to run. But I still would have avoided it if there was no service history. The dealer I bought it from seemed to think it was cute that I rang to have a go at him after I sold the car for scrap.
It turns out there's a healthy trade in "bespoke" service histories if you know who to ask. If you've got an absolute snotter that you want to flog, don't bother fixing it up, just buy a service history. The books all come from main dealerships and you can order them stamped, so all you need to do is write in the work you're going to claim has been carried out. I bought three fake services see how easy it was, while researching the topic for Watch My Wallet, the money saving website that I write for.
I contacted the companies in question (BMW, Ford and of course, Nissan) to see if they were aware that their service books were being used by used car dealers to hike up the price of patently rubbish and badly maintained cars. BMW and Nissan said they were aware of people using their books, although they were all taking measures to restore some integrity to the concept of dealer service histories.
"BMW is aware that individuals involved in organised crime do try and gain service books as a way of adding legitimacy to a stolen vehicle," Said BMW spokesman Gavin Ward.
"As such we are always upgrading facets of car security for added peace of mind for BMW customers."
As someone who had believed in the service history and all she stood for, I decided I was finished with cars. I bought a push bike instead. The hassle, the expense, petrol prices, petrol stations, the people in petrol stations who don't realise they can fill up their car from either side and who subsequently cause queues, the parking attendants, the private 'parking enforcement companies' who buy my details from the DVLA and harass me, the DVLA who sell my details to known criminals, speed cameras, I don't care about those things any more.
I ride my bike to work every day and I like it. I would say I love it, but I've not done a full winter yet. I'd always had a car, even when I was self-employed and worked from home. But now I work 6.97 miles (according to Strava) away from my house I couldn't be happier not have a car.
I save £52 a month on insurance, approximately twice as much on petrol, over £100 on road tax a year and I haven't even started adding up the cost of maintenance. My commute is 10 minutes quicker and my waist feels an inch or so smaller. I appreciate I run the risk of sounding like the smug ex-smoker who preaches to his phlegmy-throated former comrades here and I have no right to be pleased with myself. If it wasn't for the dodgy service book and the rubbish car, I'd probably still be driving today, moaning about the expense and feeling like a delicate little flower who just needs to get to work. So as annoying as it was, getting scammed worked out quite well for me.
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