If you are cruising the online vehicle ads for a new ride, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns consumers to be alert to criminals that hijack online ads to “sell” vehicles they do not own and have no intention of delivering.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received nearly 14,000 complaints from consumers who had been victimized or targeted by these scams from 2008 through last year. Victims lost nearly $44.5 million.
The scam varies, but what often happens is that consumers find vehicles they like advertised on a legitimate website, often at a below-market price. When the buyer contacts the seller, usually from an email address in the ad, the seller responds with a hard-luck story about why they’re selling the vehicle at such a low price.
The seller then asks the buyer to move the transaction to another website, often citing security reasons, and offers a buyer protection plan in the name of a well-known entity, usually a large online company. The buyer receives an invoice and is instructed to wire the funds to an account. In some cases, sellers have posed as company representatives in a live chat, offering to answer questions from buyers.
Buyers are asked to fax a receipt to show that the funds have been wired, and the seller and buyer agree on where and when the vehicle will be delivered. Of course, once the money is wired, there is no vehicle and the buyer’s money is gone.
In most cases, according to the FBI, the ad that a consumer sees online is either phony or was hijacked from another website. When the seller asks buyers to switch to a second site, it is usually a spoof of a legitimate site where the scammer can conduct a criminal business. Any “buyer protection plan” is bogus.
The scam has a number of red flags that should alert consumers: