The Tauranga teenager skimped and saved for more than a year to buy a sharp set of wheels – a $6200 2008 Mazda Demio. It was going to be a sort of birthday present to herself.
But she got scammed by an Auckland car dealer and she lost the lot.
No car, no money.
“I was very disappointed,” says a philosophical 20-year-old Marise Menzies. “What he did was wrong, but it wasn't tragic. No-one died.” She was sure it would be put right. And it was, in spectacular bright blue fashion in Judea this week.
“It was an opportunity to right someone else's wrong,” says Jono Allen of Tauranga Cars. “It should not have happened. It's just not fair.” And with that he tossed Marise a set of keys to a replacement car – another 2008 shiny blue Mazda Demio just like the one she'd been scammed out of, the car she never owned or drove, the one that might not even exist. But the one she paid for.
Jono's Mazda Demio is a gift, it's hers, for nothing. “Incredible,” says Marise. “I was speechless.”
“It brought tears to my eyes,” says Marise's mum Rose. “We felt blown away and we so didn't deserve that.” Jono thinks they did deserve it.
“I knew exactly how the family was feeling – duped. And you look back and think why did I do that? It's a sad day when you can't trust someone.” And besides, says Jono, his altruism shows there are good car dealers, good people.
Marise wanted to get mobile and was looking for a car on TradeMe. She decided on a Demio. “Good car, good mileage, good price but not excellent.” And she told the dealer if the car was as described she would buy it. Of course it was in “fantastic condition” so she proceeded with the purchases.
Marise is a therapist for Tauranga Chiropractors. She also cares for a disabled girl part-time and needed her own reliable car to take the girl for outings.
The online dealer asked for a 50 per cent deposit but to expedite delivery they paid in total. No, the Menzies never sighted the car first. No, they never met the dealer. And when they went looking for him, his address was a house in Apirana Avenue in Glen Innes, not a car yard.
“We definitely had big concerns,” says Rose. “But we also had hope because we thought he was a registered motor vehicle dealer.
“And on the phone he reassured us the car had just arrived in the country and “wasn't available for viewing.”
Rose says she'd previously conducted a similar deal and it all went very smoothly. A car bought online in Auckland had been delivered to Tauranga and it went seamlessly. “And that gave us a false sense of security. We trusted him, he presented as a director of a registered motor vehicle dealership, and we shouldn't have trusted him.”
Marise bought the car on November 6 last year and hoped to have it in time for her birthday four days later. The birthday came and went and no car. Just excuses, explanations and delaying tactics.
“I texted him, emailed him and phoned him,” says Rose. “So many false promises. But I was always polite in the hope he would deliver and there would be a successful outcome. But it didn't happen.”
They wanted to confront the dealer but they didn't have a physical address. And they learned so many others were having the same problem. “In the end I phoned TradeMe and they advised to go to the Police.”
Soon afterwards Rose read an Auckland newspaper story about 16 people being burned in a car purchase scam. She got what she describes as a “very sick and sinking feeling”.
“I was reading and hoping it wasn't the same guy we were dealing with. But then I thought: ‘Yes it was'. One of the aliases he used was a business name that we had deposited our money with.”
She had to break the news to Marise. “As parents she had appreciated our advice and input so we felt responsible; we felt so, so bad.”
Jono says it's very common to buy cars unseen. “I have just delivered a car to the airport – a guy flew up from Greymouth to pick up a car. I had never met him and he had never seen the car. But he could go on Facebook and or places where I advertise and see all of the testimonials.”
And even the Tauranga dealer has been burned. A woman took a car from his yard after making out in Jono's office that she was transferring funds from one bank to another.
“A week later the funds still hadn't gone in and she had borrowed against the car,” says Jono. The finance company stepped in, seized the car and Jono ended up with no car and no money.
“I think the moral of this whole story is that there are no rip-off car dealers in Tauranga and Auckland is full of them.”
He advises to shop locally. “Apart from supporting local business, you know who you are dealing with and where to find them if things go wrong.”
Jono says the market is so competitive you can't buy a good car any cheaper than what you can buy a good car in Tauranga. “And if you can buy it cheaper in Auckland there will be reasons why.”
In the meantime Marise has a new car that would have carried a $7000 ticket on the lot. “God had given me peace and so I trusted Him.” Now she's very grateful and she's also mobile.
“It's a nice feeling,” says Jono, the man from Tauranga Cars, who sorted the mess. “A nice feeling because I could help somebody.” And he takes satisfaction the scammer didn't win because someone put it right. “There are good car dealers.”
In Auckland a man has been arrested and charged with 13 counts of obtaining by deception. It's understood TradeMe customers allegedly paid about $55,000 in deposits to the man for cars they did not receive.
Police are seeking reparations. “If there is anything for us,” says Rose. “It'll be going straight back to Jono Allen.”