Scam artists have been duping consumers into buying cars from sites like Craigslist and Autotrader, and then never delivering them.
That's according to the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota, which says that the scammers have been creating fake shipping companies to take payments in return for delivery of the vehicle, which never arrives.
Since the summer, the BBB says more than 20 fraudulent shipping companies have been unmasked in Minnesota and North Dakota, including in Minneapolis, St. Cloud, Rochester, Duluth, Staples, Fargo, Bismarck, and Grand Forks.
The shipping companies come into play after consumers have been lured in by "too-good-to-be-true" prices for a used vehicle.
The scam involves a sob story
The scam starts with a listing on a site like used goods site like Craigslist, or in local publications, offering a cheap vehicle that can include cars, trucks, jet-skis, boats, semis and farm equipment.
The seller, who uses a woman's name typically, will then send a "sad, personal story" via email about why they need to sell as soon as possible.
You can't see the vehicle before you buy it, they say, because it's in storage.
The buyer is then referred to a third-party shipping company to handle the payment and shipping with the vehicle, during the process of which they buyer is asked to wire money to a bank. Once the transaction is over, the seller disappears, the vehicle doesn't arrive and their money is gone.
The third-party shipping firms meanwhile, which are fake escrow companies, are set up to look similar to legitimate businesses with similar-looking websites.
None, however, have a valid mailing address. Some of the companies that have been uncovered include the following: Minneapolis Express Deliveries, Westco Logistics, Rochester Cargo Center, and Caldwell Green Transportation.
What to do when buying a vehicle online
The BBB has the following advice for people buying a vehicle online.
– Insist on meeting a seller and inspecting the vehicle first.
– Research transportation companies to be sure they're legit before sending or wiring money.
– Check the company's website domain registration through a site like whois.com.
– Check for errors on the company's website.
– Read reviews of the shipping company you're considering using.
– Make sure the company has a U.S. Department of Transportation motor carrier number.