AUGUSTA, Maine – Car enthusiasts looking to buy used or antique cars in Maine should be on alert for a new online scam.
The Maine attorney general’s office announced Thursday that scammers are using the names of real Maine businesses as well as people associated with the businesses to advertise vehicles for sale. The businesses and individuals are not connected to the scam, and the scammers don’t appear to be located in Maine, the AG’s office said.
Potential buyers who are hooked by the scam send money – thousands of dollars in most cases – but never receive the vehicle. The AG’s office didn’t say how many complaints it has received, where the buyers are from or how much money has been lost.
The AG’s office said the scammers are registering fraudulent website domains using the names of the businesses and using email addresses associated with the domains. They are also using spoof phone numbers with Maine’s 207 area code.
Documents used by the scammers are deceptively legitimate-appearing, including bills of sale with details about the vehicles and VINs.
The scammers are using accounts at “major U.S. banks” to receive money from victims.
“Consumers have reported wiring thousands of dollars believing they are purchasing vehicles from a Maine business,” a news release from the AG’s office said. “After the money has been received, the scammers may continue to communicate about the delivery of the vehicle. Once consumers express concern about the transaction, the scammers may provide excuses that sound plausible, and they may even provide tracking information or other details about the delivery. However, eventually the scammers will cease communicating and the vehicle will never arrive.”
The Federal Trade Commission says such scams are common. Most start with an ad posted online on auto auction and sales websites, like eBay Motors.
The scammers may offer to chat online, share photos, and answer questions. “They may even tell you the sale will go through a well-known retailer’s buyer protection program,” the FTC says.
In one recent scam, “sellers” sent fake invoices that appeared to come from eBay Motors, and demanded payment in eBay gift cards. Scam victims who called the number on the invoice would even reach someone who said they worked for eBay Motors.
The Maine AG urges victims to submit a consumer complaint to the Maine attorney general’s office using the online form, and to also file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Consumers can also file a complaint with the FTC.
How to Avoid a Used Vehicle Scam
The FTIC, FBI, Better Business Bureau, and others have some common-sense tips that can allow you to buy a used car without getting scammed:
- If you are buying a used vehicle from someone online, always see the vehicle in person before exchanging any money. The seller may have an excuse why you can’t come see it or they’re not available. Whatever the excuse, see it in person or move on to another car.
- Always have an independent mechanic inspect a used car before you buy it (even if it’s not a scam).
- Make sure the Vehicle Identification Number in the offer or ad, and on the paperwork, matches the VIN on the car you are buying. When you look at the car in person, you can check. The VIN is on a metal plate attached to the dashboard on the driver’s side, or on the driver’s door jamb.
- If the car seems as though it’s being sold by a legitimate business, call the business to double-check using a phone number on its official website, not a number in an online ad or digital communication.
- Check out the seller by searching online for the person’s name, phone number and email address, as well as words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”
- Resist pressure to close the deal fast. Scammers use high-pressure sales tactics to get buyers to act fast before they can think it through or do their homework.
- Never pay for anything with a gift card at the urging of a seller. Whether it’s a used car, or anything else. “If anyone tells you to pay that way, it’s a scam. Every time,” the FTC says.
- If the seller demands more money after the sale for “shipping” or “transportation” costs, it’s a scam.
Vehicle History Report Scams
Both buyers and sellers should also be aware of vehicle history report scams. VHRs are designed to give an accident and damage history of a car, in order to prevent fraud and scams.
Scammers can target buyers by providing a fake report. Sellers can also be scammed. One involves a scammer acting as a buyer who requires the seller to buy a report from a reporting agency that doesn’t exist. The scammer gets the money and disappears.
The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, has a list of approved VHR providers at vehiclehistory.gov, as well as how to read the reports, tips for buying used cars and avoiding scams, and more. State motor vehicle titling agencies, insurance carriers, salvage yards, and junk yards are required by federal law to report to the system. If a car’s VHR doesn’t have any information, that means it hasn’t been in an accident or sent to a junkyard.
Information on the report includes:
- Current title information, including holder and last title date.
- Latest reported odometer reading.
- “Brand history” – the vehicle’s status (classifications include things like “junk,” “salvage” or “flood,” depending on the state it’s registered in).
- Total loss history – Whether it’s ever been so damaged it was declared a total loss by an insurer.
- Salvage history.