Better Business Bureau (BBB) in St. Louis, Missouri is warning consumers that are shopping for a vehicle on the internet to be on alert if the seller suggests using a third party to handle the transaction.
Hundreds of consumers from across the country contacted the BBB regarding a company which claims to handle escrow and shipping for vehicles in the U.S. and Canada. Within a few weeks, at least 17 additional vehicle shipping websites popped up, all claiming to be in Springfield, Missouri. The company websites look similar and sometimes share the same address or phone number. BBB site visits and inquiries confirm the business addresses listed on the websites are for other unrelated businesses or for locations that do not exist.
Consumers recount almost identical stories to BBB in which they find cars, trucks, recreational vehicles, boats, jet skis, semi-trucks or farm equipment at too-good-to-be-true prices ranging from $3,000 to $15,000 primarily on local Craigslist sites, Autotrader or local free print publications. The potential buyer contacts the seller, who is usually a woman. She says she is using a shipper to handle escrow and transportation of the vehicle to the potential buyer. BBB believes the sellers and shippers are bogus.
Potential buyers report to BBB that they are given the name of a financial representative and are asked to complete a bank-to-bank wire transfer. They are told they will have five days to evaluate the vehicle, and if they are not satisfied, the shipper will pick up the vehicle and return it to Springfield, with all shipping fees paid by the seller.
One consumer submitted a review on the company stating that he was contacted by a man claiming to live in Alabama but had no direct connection to the selling or shipping of the vehicle. So far, there have not been any reports of consumers in Alabama falling victim to this scam.
BBB offers the following tips for how to recognize a potential online vehicle scam:
- The seller will not let you see the vehicle in person. Do not trust photos, as they can easily be taken off the internet. Insist on meeting the seller and inspecting the vehicle before releasing any money.
- The shipping company’s website has no verifiable physical location. Check the website’s domain registration on a website such as Whois.com. Just because a website, email or invoice looks official does not mean that it is. Read business profiles at bbb.org, and search online for complaints or reviews of the shipper you are considering. If the company does not have an internet presence other than a new website, consider it a warning sign.
- The shipping website does not post the DOT Motor Carrier Number. All shipping companies are required to have a Motor Carrier Number. Those that don’t, are not authorized to operate in the United States. The company should post the number on the website and provide it over the phone if asked. Verify the company at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s SAFER website.
- Payment is by wire transfer. Sending a wire transfer is virtually impossible to get back once it has been sent. Pay by credit card whenever possible in case you need to challenge the payment.
Source: BBB St. Louis – To read the full story and for a comprehensive list of names this business is operating under, visit BBB.org.
If you have been a victim of this scam, take the following precautions: report it on BBB Scam Tracker and file a report with the sheriff’s office, which is working with the U.S. Secret Service on the case.