Beware of Phony Online Auto Dealers

cara 150x150 Beware of Phony Online Auto DealersWhen looking for a used car, it’s natural to turn to online listings. From the comfort of your own home, you can peruse thousands of vehicles to find exactly what you are looking for. But how do you close the deal? If you wire cash to a stranger, the money is gone. One consumer learned that the hard way last month.

The website of Bee Back Motors of Cheyenne, Wyoming, looks legitimate and they have dozens of cars listed for sale, with photos. The consumer, who lives in New Hampshire, wired the dealership $35,000 on March 9 and was told his car would be shipped to arrive on March 17. When it never arrived, he called the sales representative repeatedly but never got a call back…and the car he “purchased” was still listed for sale on the website!

BBB serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming issued a warning about the “dealership” after confirming with the State of Wyoming that a dealership in that name once operated in Cheyenne but that the owner died and the business had closed. No dealership with that name is currently registered in the state.

So what can you do to protect yourself from a situation like this? For starters, try being an online detective. I took a close look at the website to search for clues that it wasn’t legitimate. The photo on the home page shows a dealer lot full of nice-looking cars, but upon closer inspection it appeared the photo was really a shopping center parking lot. OK, that’s Clue #1.

When I right-clicked on the photo, the name “alabama-deluxe” popped up. Hmmm…why would a Wyoming dealership use a photo labeled Alabama? Clue #2.

Next I Googled the phone number. In addition to the dealership listing, the same number was used by someone selling a BMW in Philadelphia and someone else selling the same car in San Francisco. Clue #3.

As if I needed more proof, I searched for a vehicle and selected a fairly rare and classic car, a 1970 Ford Mustang BOSS 302. I chose this one because it was an unusual color (orange) and the photo was taken on a distinctive checkerboard tile floor. Then I went to Google and typed in the full make and model of the vehicle and selected “Images.” Immediately, dozens of photos of this cool collector’s car popped up. I scrolled down the page and quickly spotted “my” orange vehicle on the tile floor. But when I clicked on the picture, it didn’t take me to Bee Back Motors; it took me to another dealership…Streetside Classics, a BBB Accredited Business in Georgia with an A- rating. So the photo was stolen from another website! That’s Clue #4.

Just a few minutes of sleuthing gave me enough information to steer clear (pardon the pun) from this phony online dealer. It’s easy for crooks to hide behind professional-looking websites, but sooner or later they give themselves away. BBB has posted a warning about this company but, unfortunately, the consumer in New Hampshire may never get his money back.

BBB recommends the following for buyers when shopping for a car online:
• Contact authorities in the state where the company is located to verify they are licensed to operate.
• Always check the dealer’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org.
• Beware if the dealer only accepts payment by money-wire transfer.
• If purchasing a vehicle out of state, have a person you trust inspect the vehicle in person before paying.
• Beware of prices that seem too good to be true.

Excuse me now; I think I’m going to call Streetside Classics about that Mustang…

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About Katherine Hutt

Katherine R. Hutt, Director of Communications and Media Relations with the Council of Better Business Bureaus, is an award-winning communicator who has been helping nonprofit organizations tell their stories for the past 25 years. She was a CBBB consultant on numerous projects for more than a decade before joining the staff in 2011.