OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) - The Better Business Bureau said on Thursday that vehicle shipper and escrow scams are increasing as demand rises for online vehicle purchases during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Better Business Bureau said many websites list cars, trucks, vans and RVs for low prices with sellers offering to make third-party delivery arrangements if the buyer pays via escrow.
"They’re trying to prey on our good nature, as far as consumers. Trying to get us and show that there is some sort of protection like, your money is going to be protected, it’s going to be in an escrow account,” says Eric Anderson, President of the Heartland Chapter of the Association of Fraud Examiners.
They'll often ask the buyer to pay via wire transfer, or by using gift cards.
The reality is neither the automobile nor escrow company exists, which leaves the buyer without their money or their vehicle.
The Better Business Bureau says one of the best ways to ensure the seller is real, is to insist on them giving you a phone number, so you can call them.
The sellers are believed to originate from outside the U.S., in Romania.
The Better Business Bureau says "thousands of customers" have fallen victim to the scam and that these kind of incidents are increasing. It's estimated that tens of millions of dollars have been lost as part of the scams.
A new Better Business Bureau study finds websites like Craigslist are filled with cars at low prices with sellers claiming the deals are so good because of things like an upcoming military deployment overseas.
“Buying a vehicle online from a reputable seller can be a safe and convenient way to shop during COVID-19, but as with any high-profile situation, scammers are finding ways to take advantage of unwitting buyers,” said Jim Hegarty, president and CEO of the BBB serving Nebraska, South Dakota, The Kansas Plains and Southwest Iowa. “Consumers should use extreme caution so they do not let a low price and a sad story lure them into paying for a vehicle that does not exist.”
Hegarty added, “In June, our BBB alerted consumers about three different car scam operations supposedly located in our BBB’s service area. One was not at either of two addresses listed on its website; a second used the name of a real local car dealer that does not sell cars online; and a third did not exist at the listed address and was not licensed to do business.”
Scammers sometimes claim the transaction is protected by things like the eBay vehicle protection program. In other cases, scammers concoct bogus websites connected to shipping escrow companies with addresses in towns across the United States, especially the Midwest. Those sometimes utilize names and addresses of real businesses and car dealerships.
In a recent case in the United States, authorities were led to an organized crime ring that resulted in 20 people being charged with close to $2 million in victim funds being converted to bitcoin and transferred to Romania. Fifteen defendants have pleaded guilty, three are fugitives, and two others are scheduled to go to trial in fall 2020.
Watch the BBB press conference above or on our Facebook page.
Who to contact if you are the victim of a vehicle escrow scam:
- Better Business Bureau - file a complaint with your local BBB if you lost money or report a scam online to BBB Scam Tracker.
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC) - file a complaint online at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call 877-FTC-Help.
- FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) - file a complaint online at ic3.gov/complaint.
- Canadian Anti Fraud Centre - file a report online at antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca or call 1-888-495-8501.
The platform where you saw a suspected bad ad such as:
- Craigslist -sfbay.craigslist.org/contact
- Kijiji - help.kijiji.ca/helpdesk/safety/how-do-i-report-an-ad
- Facebook Marketplace - facebook.com/help
- eBay - Forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the BBB study below or by clicking here.