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Trends: FBI Warns on Avoiding Fraudulent Online Vehicle Sales

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As an update to I-111414-PSA, released Nov. 14, 2014, the FBI is issuing additional information and warnings regarding the fraudulent online sale of cars, RVs, boats, and other outdoor equipment. Criminals are posting online advertisements of items that are not, nor have ever been, within their possession.

From May 2014 through December 2017, the IC3 received approximately 26,967 complaints with adjusted losses of $54,032,396 related to these types of fraudulent sales.

The fraudulent advertisements usually include photos matching the description of the vehicle for sale and a phone number or email address to contact the supposed seller. Once the initial contact is established, the criminal sends the intended buyer additional photos along with a seemingly logical explanation for the item’s discounted price and the time-sensitive nature of the transaction. Common explanations given by the perpetrators include (but are not limited to):

  • Seller is moving to another location or being deployed by the military
  • Seller received the vehicle as part of a divorce settlement
  • Vehicle belonged to a relative who has died

The criminal makes the fraud appear legitimate by deceptively claiming partnership with reputable companies, such as eBay, and using the names of these third parties with whom they have no actual association. The criminal assures the buyer that the transaction will occur through a third party’s Buyer Protection Program; the criminal then immediately sends an email to the buyer with a fraudulent toll-free number that impersonates the third party.

The buyer is told to purchase prepaid gift cards in the amount of the agreed upon sale price and is instructed to share the prepaid card codes with the criminal. The criminal notifies the buyer they will be receiving the vehicle within a couple of days. After the transaction goes through, the criminal typically ignores all follow-up calls, text messages, or emails from the buyer or demands additional payments. The vehicle is not delivered and the buyer is never able to recuperate their losses.

The FBI recommends that consumers interested in purchasing items online ensure they are purchasing from a reputable source by verifying the legitimacy of the seller and their actual possession of the merchandise.

Below are some consumer tips when purchasing vehicles online:

  • If the deal appears too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Use the Internet to research the advertised item and the seller’s name, email addresses, telephone numbers, and other unique identifiers.
  • 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.

Individuals who believe they may be a victim of, or have knowledge of, an online scam (regardless of dollar amount) can file a complaint with the IC3 at www.ic3.gov.

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