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Online car buyers warned of latest scam to defraud customers

Saturday, August 27, 2011

More and more people are searching for -- and finding -- their new vehicles online.

Unfortunately, scam artist are aware of this virtual market and have found ways to take advantage of it.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel joins the Federal Bureau of Investigation in warning consumers about the latest scam in which shoppers are being victimized by fraudulent vehicle sales and false claims of vehicle protection programs.

"Shopping online gives buyers a much wider selection of vehicles to choose from, but they need to make sure they are dealing with a legitimate seller," McDaniel said. "As this most recent scam illustrates, sellers who won't meet with the buyer or allow an inspection of the vehicle are likely to be frauds."

In this latest scam, criminals attempt to phantom sell vehicles by advertising vehicles for sale at prices below book value.

They often say that they need to sell the vehicle quickly because they are moving for work, being deployed for the military or need funds for family or medical needs.

Because of the alleged pending move or financial need, the sellers refuse to meet in person or allow inspection of the vehicle, and they often attempt to rush the sale.

To make the deal appear legitimate, criminals tell victims to send full or partial payment to a third-party agent via a wire transfer payment service and to fax their payment receipt to the seller as proof of payment.

But the supposed third-party agent is actually just a separate identity assumed by the fraudulent seller, and the criminal pockets the payment but does not deliver the vehicle.

These sellers also attempt to make their scams appear valid by misusing the names of reputable companies and programs.

For example, the eBay Motors Vehicle Protection Plan is a reputable protection program whose name is commonly misused by these criminals. However, the eBay plan is not applicable to transactions that originate outside of eBay Motors, and eBay prohibits the use of wire transfer payments. Nevertheless, criminals often promise eBay Motors Vehicle Protection Plans for non-eBay Motors purchases, and instruct victims to send a wire payment.

What's more, criminals use a live chat feature in email correspondence and electronic invoices.

As live chat assistants, the criminals answer victims' questions and assure victims that the deals are safe, claiming that safeguards are in place to reimburse the buyer for any loss.

The criminals often falsely assert that their sales are protected by liability insurance coverage up to $50,000.

If you are shopping for a vehicle online, here are some situations that should raise concerns. In particular, shoppers should be cautious of the following situations:

* Sellers who want to move the transaction from one platform to another (for example, Craigslist to eBay Motors).

* Sellers who claim that a buyer protection program offered by a major Internet company covers an auto transaction conducted outside that company's site.

* Sellers who push for speedy completion of the transaction and request payments via quick wire transfer payment systems.

* Sellers who refuse to meet in person, or refuse to allow the buyer to physically inspect the vehicle before the purchase.

* Transactions where the seller and vehicle are in different locations. Criminals often claim to have been transferred for work reasons, deployed by the military, or moved because of a family circumstance, and could not take the vehicle with them.

* Vehicles advertised at well below their market value. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

If you have witnessed this behavior or fallen victim to this type of scam, please file a complaint with the IC3 at www.IC3.gov

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