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Consumer Alert:
Beware of Fraudulent, Online Car Sales

Consumers who seek to purchase vehicles online are being targeted by scammers, according to an August 15, 2011 alert from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

These scams take the form of fraudulent vehicle sales, in which criminals attempt to sell vehicles they do not own. They create an attractive deal by offering vehicles for sale at well below book value, and often claim they need to sell right away because they are unemployed, are being moved for work, or are being deployed for the military.

These con artists typically refuse to meet the prospective buyer in person, or allow the buyer to inspect the vehicle, and they often attempt to rush the sale. To make the deal look legitimate, they often instruct the victim to send full or partial payment to a third-party agent via a wire transfer, then fax the receipt to the seller as proof of payment. The criminal pockets the payment, but fails to deliver the vehicle.

Criminals also attempt to make their scams appear valid by misusing the names of reputable companies and programs, such as the eBay Motors Vehicle Protection Plan (VPP).

In a new twist, criminals use a live chat feature on email correspondence and electronic invoices. As “live chat assistants,” the criminals answer victims’ questions and assure victims that the deals are safe, claiming that buyers will be reimbursed for any loss. They falsely assert the sales are protected by a liability insurance policy up to $50,000.

The IC3 alert warns automotive shoppers to be very careful before buying a vehicle that is advertised online. In particular, shoppers should beware of the following situations:

  • Sellers who want to move the transaction from one online platform to another (for example, from Craigslist to eBay Motors)
  • Sellers who claim that a buyer protection program offered by a major Internet company (such as eBay Motors’ Vehicle Protection Plan) will cover a transaction conducted outside that company’s website.
  • Sellers who push for speedy completion of the transaction and request payments via quick wire transfer payment systems.
  • Sellers who refuse to meet in person, or refuse to let the buyer physically inspect the vehicle before the purchase.
  • Transactions in which the seller and vehicle are in different locations. Criminals often claim to have been transferred for their job, deployed by the military, or moved because of a family circumstance, and claim they were unable to take the vehicle with them.
  • Vehicles advertised at well below their market value. Remember: If it looks to good to be true, it probably is.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). To learn more, go to

Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website,, or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200. Follow the Division of Consumer Affairs on Facebook, at ; and check our online calendar of upcoming Consumer Outreach events, at

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