TAKING ACTION: Breaking down online used car scams targeting Tennessee Valley shoppers

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You hear a lot these days about scam artists calling and emailing potential victims, but there are many other types of scams out there to be mindful of. Some of the scam artists lay in wait for their victims to come to them.

WHNT News 19 is Taking Action to help keep you from becoming a victim.

People are buying almost everything online these days, including new and used cars. But like with so many other things, there are thieves out there just waiting for the unsuspecting buyer to come along. We talked with two car buyers who wanted us to take action to prevent others from falling for a scam.

Pat Ferguson and Dawn Williams both told us it was just easier to sit down at their computers to shop around for a car. Ferguson was looking for a pick-up for his grandson. Williams wanted something more economical. The scammers told them very similar stories.

"He said that he was in the service and that he was going to be going to Afghanistan," Williams explained.

"She was in some kind of military outfit that was fixin' to go back to Afghanistan so she couldn't give out a phone number," Ferguson said.

Neither one of them were shopping on eBay, but they each received an invoice that looked like it was from eBay.  The scammers do that because eBay offers buyer protection programs designed to stop scams like this, and it makes the ruse appear to be more legitimate.

Ferguson did what they told him to do. He went to Walmart and bought the four Vanilla Cards, each with $500 on them, but Walmart sold him the wrong cards. The thieves wanted the cards with the thing on the back that you would scratch off to reveal a 10-digit code. Once they had gotten that number, they would have had his money.

It wasn't until Ferguson tried to get his money back to purchase the correct cards that he learned he was being scammed.

"And the lady says, 'Mr. Ferguson, you are in the middle of a big scam. We have been through this before with other people'," Ferguson explained.

Williams, on the other hand, was dealing with a different thief who carefully guided her to the correct cash cards and her money into his pocket.

"It's just sad that you try to do something better and you get taken advantage of like that," Williams said.

Williams found her thief on Facebook and we found he's created a half dozen Facebook pages all attempting to sell the same two vehicles -- a Ford truck and the Acura that Williams thought she was buying. The addresses that he lists are as bogus as he is. One is an empty lot in St. Louis, another is the guard shack at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.

But regardless of the address, the Better Business Bureau says if the seller wants you to pay with a wire transfer or some of those scratch-off money cards, stop. You're probably dealing with a thief.

"Unfortunately, those types of cards have become a really great tool that scammers have just taken and tried to use to their benefit but to victimize consumers," according to Elizabeth Garcia of the Better Business Bureau in Huntsville.

Williams says she realized she'd been ripped off when the seller asked for another thousand dollars for insurance to ship her car to her. As for Ferguson, he says he saw a half-dozen red flags that should have tipped him off, but he says he wanted that truck for his grandson. He will get his money back, but Williams won't.

The bottom line is if you are buying anything and they tell you to go get a wire transfer or some of those money cards, just stop. In all likelihood you are dealing with a thief.

We believe Ferguson and Williams were both dealing with the same den of thieves, so for fun we emailed them to ask if the car Williams had bought was still available. We swapped about a dozen emails and got the same story, a soldier about to go to Afghanistan and just needed a quick sale on the car. The FBI says they believe that same car has been sold to some 1,600 victims. That's amounts to $3,200,000.00 and counting.

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