The Internet is a wonderful creation for so many reasons. But it also has its dark side. Kind of like the moon, we only see one side, the bright side. The dark side is hidden from us and that is what the internet is like.
The internet is a place where one can buy just about anything made. I sometimes pre-order my groceries online and they are ready for me when I arrive at the store. I book my airfare, hotels and make dinner reservations. Many of my other purchases are made online as well; like my books, computer supplies, pet supplies. The list goes on and on.
My purchases are made on secure websites and are conducted lawfully. Unfortunately, the internet is a breading ground for criminals and they place themselves into this huge marketplace and scam thousands of people every day.
In America a few days ago the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) issued an alert about a cyber scam that is aimed at people buying vehicles online.
Basically what these scoundrels are doing is creating an ad on a legitimate website and listing vehicles at great prices, generally just below the market value. As a buyer you write to the seller via email and the seller responds likewise. Here the scam starts to mimic millions of other scams: the seller responds with a long-winded story of their bad luck and need to sell the vehicle quickly, that is why the price is so good.
Now the seller requests the buyer to move the transaction to the website of another online company, this is for the buyer’s security. An offer is also made that offers the buyer a protection
plan in the name of a major Internet company (e.g., eBay). Through this new website the buyer receives an invoice with instructions to wire the funds to an account.
As more and more scammers hit this expanding cyber-crime market, they become more creative in an attempt to out beat other scammers. In a new twist, the criminals pose as a company representative in a live chat to answer questions. This forms a feeling of security which breaks down your vigilance.
Once the funds are wired, the buyer may be asked by the seller to fax a receipt to show that the transaction has taken place. And then the seller has the buyer send a fax receipt to the seller and the seller and buyer agree upon a time for the delivery of the vehicle.
So what is actually happening is a complete fraud that is designed to break down the buyers normal weariness. The original ad that was placed was phony, there never was a vehicle for sale. When the buyer was asked to move to another, more secure website for security, is either a phony copy of a well known website or actually a hijacked website. In other words, the buyer found the ad on Craig’s List. The buyer is asked to move to a site that resembles Ebay.
The site that looks like Ebay is actually created by the scammer so it is easier for them to conduct business with the buyer. Although the protection plan is just as fake as the vehicle for sale, what this does is break the buyer down again, this time building trust in the seller.
The fax transmission also builds a feeling of trust, but actually the fax is the sellers proof that the transaction was made and when the funds will be available. The meeting date will be made for a time after the funds are cleared.
They buyers will show up to the appointment on time, or early but will not find a seller. By the time the buyer realizes what happened the criminals and the buyers hard earned money are long gone.
The FBI has listed Red flags for consumers:
- Cars are advertised at too-good-to-be true prices;
- Sellers want to move transactions from the original website to another site;
- Sellers claim that a buyer protection program offered by a major Internet company covers an auto transaction conducted outside that company’s website;
- Sellers refuse to meet in person or allow potential buyers to inspect the car ahead of time;
- Sellers who say they want to sell the car because they’re in the U.S. military about to be deployed, are moving, the car belonged to someone who recently died, or a similar story;
- Sellers who ask for funds to be wired ahead of time.
The FBI reports the number of complaints from 2008 through 2010, IC3 has received nearly 14,000 complaints from consumers who have been victimized, or at least targeted, by these scams. Of the victims who actually lost money, the total dollar amount is staggering: nearly $44.5 million.
If you think you’ve been victimized by an online auto scam, file a complaint with IC3. Once complaints are received and analyzed, IC3 forwards them as appropriate to a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency.