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FBI warns of phony online car sales as tax refunds roll in

By Mariah Medina - Digital Journalist, Courtney Friedman - VJ, Reporter KSAT ABC 12 - 18-02-06
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car for sale scams

SAN ANTONIO - The FBI is warning consumers of scammers who, they say, are on the prowl, looking to steal your tax refund.

One of the more popular scams: Fraudulent online car sales.

If it sounds too good to be true, it's likely a scam

It doesn't take long to find a potentially fraudulent car sale. KSAT-12's Courtney Friedman did some searching and found a 2006 Acura for $2,000 and a 2005 Acura TL for just over $1,000. They look like good deals, but the FBI said they're most likely scams.

"The price tag is extremely enticing for the consumer and in the end you're not going to get anything at all," FBI spokesperson Michelle Lee said.

Courtney found another car on OfferUp and when she clicked the seller's profile, she discovered the seller listed the same car more than 50 times all in different cities. Thousands of people have fallen for these scams

According to the FBI, from May 2014 to December 2017, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 26,967 complaints for these types of fraudulent online car sales.

The agency said that amounts to more than $54 million dollars in adjusted losses.

"People have become more comfortable purchasing things online," Lee said. "With that comfort level, we have individuals that are maybe becoming a little more careless and not looking out for signs the sales could be scams." Don't become a victim

Lee said consumers should make sure the photos match the description of the vehicle. And, if there's an urgency to complete the sale, beware.

"They provide reasons why they're selling an item at such a discount," Lee said. "You know, 'I just got a divorce, I'm having to liquidate my assets."

The FBI has a list of tactics employed by scammers on its website and lists divorce, deployment and death as reasons frequently used by scammers.

Lee also advises buyers to beware of sellers who want money wired or want payment in gift cards. Also, investigate whether the site you are buying from offers buyer protection. Sites such as Craigslist or OfferUp where the seller can advertise for free do not offer buyer protection.

Here's a list of specific tips from the FBI:

  • If it appears too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Use the internet to research the advertised item and the seller’s name, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers and other unique identifiers.
  • Use the internet to research the company’s contact information and its shipping and payment policies before completing a transaction. Ensure the legitimacy of the contact information and that the company accepts the requested payment option.
  • Avoid sellers who refuse to meet in person, or who refuse to allow the buyer to physically inspect the vehicle before the purchase.
  • Ask for the vehicle’s VIN, license plate (if possible), and the name of the individual to whom the car is currently registered.
  • Criminals take extra effort to disguise themselves and may have recognizable words in their e-mail name or domain. If you are suspicious or unsure about an e-mail that claims to be from a legitimate business, locate the business online and contact them directly.

What to do if you become a victim of a fraudulent car sale

Report the crime to the FBI's IC3 online.

Here's what you'll need to file a complaint with the IC3:

  • Victim's name, address, telephone, and email.
  • Financial transaction information (e.g., account information, transaction date and amount, who received the money).
  • Subject's name, address, telephone, email, website and IP address.
  • Specific details on how you were victimized.
  • Email header(s).
  • Any other relevant information you believe is necessary to support your complaint.

See more FBI tips to protect yourself from phony car salespeople.

Tags: FBI, car sales, tax refund, OfferUp

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