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FBI Warns Online Shoppers of Auto Sale Scams

Oct 03, 2011

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is warning online auto shoppers to watch out for deals that offer cars at very low prices, then direct unwitting buyers to phony Websites designed to separate victims from their money. The agency says more than $44.5 million was stolen through such scams from 2008 to 2010. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center recently issued an alert about a specific type of cyber scam that targets consumers looking to buy vehicles online. How the scam works. While there are variations, here’s a basic description: consumers find a vehicle they like—often at a below-market price—on a legitimate Website. The buyer contacts the seller, usually through an e-mail address in the ad, to indicate their interest. The seller responds via e-mail, often with a hard-luck story about why they want to sell the vehicle and at such a good price. In the e-mail, the seller asks the buyer to move the transaction to the website of another online company—for security reason—and then offers a buyer protection plan in the name of a major Internet company (e.g., eBay). Through the new Website, the buyer receives an invoice and is instructed to wire the funds for the vehicle to an account somewhere. In a new twist, sometimes the criminals pose as company representatives in a live chat to answer questions from buyers. Once the funds are wired, the buyer may be asked by the seller to fax a receipt to show that the transaction has taken place and then the seller and buyer agree upon a time for the delivery of the vehicle. What actually happens: The ad the consumer sees is either completely phony or was hijacked from another Website. The buyer is asked to move from a legitimate Website to a spoofed Website, where it’s easier for the criminal to conduct business. The buyer protection plan offered as part of the deal is bogus. The buyer is asked to fax the seller proof of the transaction so the crooks know when the funds are available for stealing. By the time buyers realize they’ve been scammed, the criminals—and the money—are long gone. NJ CAR encourages dealers to periodically check any online vehicle listings to ensure they have not been hijacked by a cyber-criminal looking to scam your potential customers.