If you’re shopping around for a new car, RV or boat, beware of criminals who are posting online ads for items that they don’t even own.
According to a recent warning from the FBI, its Internet Crime Complaint Center received 26,967 complaints from May 2014 through December 2017 related to these type of fraudulent sales.
There have been $54,032,396 in adjusted losses during that time period from these incidents, the FBI said.
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Online car buying scam: What you need to know
Here’s how it works: A scammer posts a fraudulent advertisement with photos matching the description of the vehicle for sale and a phone number or email address to contact the supposed seller.
After a buyer reaches out, the criminal sends more photos and an explanation for the item’s discounted price. These are a few examples:
- Seller is moving to another location or being deployed by the military
- Seller received the vehicle as part of a divorce settlement
- The vehicle belonged to a relative who has died
The criminal will claim to partner with reputable companies — like eBay — and will assure the buyer that the transaction will take place through a third party’s Buyer Protection Program.
Next, the scammer sends an email to the buyer with a fraudulent toll-free number that impersonates the third party.
This is where all sorts of red flags should be going up! The buyer is then told to purchase prepaid gift cards in the amount of the agreed upon sale price and is asked to share the gift card codes with the criminal.
The criminal tells the buyer that they’ll receive the vehicle in a couple of days, but it’s never delivered.
How to protect yourself
The FBI says consumers who are buying items online should verify the legitimacy of the seller and their actual possession of the merchandise. Here are some key tips to protect yourself when buying a vehicle online:
- Be cautious of items being advertised well below their market value
- Use the internet to research the advertised item and the seller’s name, email addresses, telephone numbers and other unique identifiers
- Use the internet to research the company’s contact information and its shipping and payment policies before completing a transaction
- Avoid sellers who refuse to meet in person or who refuse to allow the buyer to physically inspect the vehicle before the purchase
- Ask for the vehicle’s VIN number, license plate (if possible) and the name of the individual to whom the car is currently registered
- If you are suspicious or unsure about an email that claims to be from a legitimate business, locate the business online and contact it directly