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Avoid being scammed by online dealers by following thes... Avoid being scammed by online dealers by following these few tips and reporting suspected fraudulent activity (age fotostock).

Call it a sad commentary on our modern world, but we’ve grown accustomed to tales of identity theft. It seems that those unwilling to woodchip their credit card receipts have a decent chance of opening up a Visa bill full of pain. A new twist on this sort of criminal activity is making its way through the used car market, however, but it doesn’t involve stealing identities from individuals. Instead, thieves are impersonating entire dealerships in order to bilk car shoppers out of too-good-to-be-true online sales.

In June, scoundrels essentially “stole” the name of a reputable Memphis car dealer, America Auto Sales, and set up a website -- www.americautosales.com (now defunct) -- claiming to be that dealership. Then the scammers advertised “below-market prices for repossessed cars.” (America Auto Sales’ actual website is www.memphisautoworld.com and it does not sell cars over the Internet.)

Of course, the reason the prices were so low is because the cars didn’t exist. Within weeks of the launch of the phony website, the Better Business Bureau received more than 1,500 inquires about this so-called “dealership” from consumers all over the country -- many of whom had already been bilked out of their down payments.

The Memphis dealership itself got 1,000 calls from consumers who had shopped for a car on the bogus site, many wondering why they hadn’t yet received the vehicles they ordered, after laying out significant amounts of cash for “deposits.”

Further investigation revealed the similar sites have also popped up, never for more than a few weeks at a time, in states such as Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico and Texas, dating back to December 2009. But none generated nearly as much activity as the bogus site that was dishonestly posing as the Memphis dealership.

“The people who made ‘deposits’ generally lost anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000,” says Nancy Crawford, spokesperson for the Memphis office of the Better Business Bureau.

She said the scam is being investigated by IC3.gov -- an Internet crime tracking website that is a partnership between the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and Bureau of Justice Assistance. “But they’re telling us it is highly unlikely that these deposits will ever be recovered, because the criminals set it up in a way that makes it almost impossible to trace them.” One of those tactics is that it appears this scam was conducted from overseas, said Crawford.

AOL Autos called two of the victims of this scam to ask them about their experiences with these hucksters.

Amanda Hanson, from suburban Cleveland, has Multiple Sclerosis and is on disability. She moves with the help of a wheelchair or a walker. She has a master’s degree in microbiology, and pursued a career in that field for several years, but is now unable to work due to her condition. “I’d been driving a [Chevy] Cavalier, but with my condition, it’s hard getting in and out of a coupe, so I was looking for a sedan,” she says.

“We decided I should buy a new car that was easier to get in and out of, and that had a trunk that was big enough for me to fold up my wheelchair and put it back there. And I found a 2006 Cobalt on this website, with 57,000 miles, selling for only $3,198.”

Hanson did her due diligence: She researched the actual dealer, and saw that it had a good rating from the BBB, unaware that the scammers had stolen the dealer’s name and set up this bogus website.

So Hanson sent in a deposit of $2,258, including shipping costs, and was told the car would be delivered to her home in a few days. But the crooks insisted that the deposit only be sent via MoneyGram Money Transfer, not by check and not by using a credit card. That was a key element of the scam, because MoneyGram Money transfers can be picked up anywhere in the world without the person having to show any ID or provide any identifying code, explains Crawford. So, the culprits cannot be traced.

“They were even told to specifically use MoneyGram Money Transfer, as opposed to MoneyGram Express, which does require that whoever picks it up provide a numerical code,” says Crawford.

Even worse, the money Hanson sent for her “deposit” was inheritance money her husband had recently received.

“I did think it was odd that this dealer only communicated via e-mail, that we couldn’t actually call them and talk to anyone,” says Hanson. “So about five days after I sent the money, and my car still had not arrived, and I tried to log back onto their site, but couldn’t. I didn’t know it was a scam until I saw a news story on TV.”

With Hanson’s income being restricted to her disability benefits -- and with her husband currently unemployed due to the recession -- that $2,258 represents a big financial hit. “It really was a hardship for us, to lose that money,” says Hanson. “I was very upset and angry for a few weeks, but now I have resigned myself to it. It’s a learning situation, I guess, but I am going to continue speaking out about this.”

What those who were bilked have learned, says Crawford, is to be cognizant of these red flags when doing business with online car-sales operations:

1. Prices that seem too good to be true.

2. A dealer that only communicates through e-mail or online chat, and never by phone.

3. A dealer who only accepts payment by money wire transfer.

The second victim of this ruse that we contacted was Walt Dworschak, of Corona, California. He’s also on disability, due to his epilepsy. “I’d just gotten my driver’s license back, after not having it for a year. Prior to that, I wasn’t legally permitted to drive, because they were concerned I might have a seizure while driving,” explains Dworschak.

“But I’d been under a neurologist’s care for a year, and he had me on a medication, and he determined that I was now seizure-free. So I was pretty excited about being able to drive again,” says Dworschak. “So my wife did a search for Carfax, and this website was the first one that came up. They listed a repossessed ’09 Ford F-150 for only $7,800. I thought, ‘That’s a great deal,’ because the low Blue Book value for that truck was $14,000.”

Like Hanson, Dworschak did his homework, and also found that the actual dealer had high ratings. But like Hanson, he didn’t know that the grifters had essentially “stolen” the dealer’s identify. He went through the same steps as Hanson, in his case sending in a $3,000 deposit, including shipping charges. When a week had gone by and his truck still hadn’t been delivered, he called the dealer.

“The dealer didn’t know what I was talking about, and then said, ‘Oh, you’re not one of those people who got scammed, are you?’ I said, ‘What scam?’“ recounted Dworschak.

Losing $3,000 was also a lot of money for Dworschack, given that his income is limited to his disability benefits and his wife only works part-time. “She has a car, but needs it for work, so, I guess it will still be a long time before I’m driving again.”

Ultimately, how does one account for the blackness in the hearts of the sort of sociopaths who would do this kind of thing to the poor and disabled?

“That’s what’s so sad about this,” laments Crawford, “the way these scammers target people who already have limited funds. Because if someone has more financial means, they are probably not likely to go to websites to find really cheap prices on re-possessed cars.”

The criminals in the Memphis case have not yet been brought to justice.

If you feel you are the victim of a scam like the one described above, please contact the Better Business Bureau by clicking here.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Months Ago
      yea they had a place in norwalk, ct a actual car dealership and scammed a whole bunch of people and said they were going on vacation and the car lot was cleared out overnight
      • 6 Months Ago
      Craigslist is FULL of these scams. Let the buyer bewae
      • 6 Months Ago
      What's interesting in this article is the fact that all these police agencies are trying to track these guys down, but aren't likely to find them. No surprise there. White collar cops aren't able to find their own butts in the dark with both hands! My account information was stolen from Best Buy (from the store's own system, not on-line). The crooks bought a $1,500 computer using my credit card. My credit card company straightened it out. But when I asked if they would get the police involved, they just said it wasn't a large enough scam to bother the police. But if I were to threaten to kill some ************ thief, the police would be at my door within seconds.
      • 6 Months Ago
      Yes I bought a van over the internet for an outstanding dealer Pete Moore in Pensacola FL Like Amanda I have MS but needed a lift gate and transfer seat. The guys there were just super, good price and and outstanding van. G2500 Chev 2002 with only 21000 miles. It ********* entire life in a small AL town. There should be a clearing house for these units I spent 18 months looking for some thing like this. Phone calls you bet. BBB ratings and car inspections to be sure it is real. You can not be to careful when it comes to thousands of dollars.
      • 6 Months Ago
      Dear Greenbl, Bridge sounds great. Which direction does it face? Does it need painting or it's pretty good. Let me know asap and I'll wire you the cash. Will u take 850?
      • 6 Months Ago
      To everyone who is reading, spread the word. There is a website called SEllMyCar.com!!! It is a scam. Do not purchase a vehicle form them. They will take your money , and you will not receive the car and they will disappear. The government needs to get involved, and stop these theives Again, these people only want the money sent by Western Union. They too were using e-bay as a front. Spead the word on this website!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      • 6 Months Ago
      Just for you, ksn, because we're friends and I like u, make it $10.
      chuck e
      • 6 Months Ago
      E-Bay use to not have AUTO CHECK unless you paid for it. Now you have to include the car fax and auto check to E-BAY. There are sellers who still try to sell cars with accidents listed in the AUTO CHECK. Look out for Mercedes-Benz for sale on E-Bay. He's located in Palm Beach Area. He will state a minor scratch when it was not. Also look out for used Mercedes-Benz used tires and wheels. He states he has a dealership but he is partners with the other seller and all they have is a storage area. Don't go by the 100% feedback. Read the feedback first. He also has people put in positive feedback before the person sees the car and ships it to them............
      • 6 Months Ago
      ANY type of insurance claim is noted and shows up when one goes to buy/sell a car. That's why the seller should always take pix of before & after the damage repair. Sometimes, it's no big whoop, at all.
      • 6 Months Ago
      There is a sucker born every minute
      • 6 Months Ago
      How many times does the public need to be educated on how to buy a car!! I have been a Dealer for 40 years and I've never seen a repo that would sell for what was owed on it. Most have been beat and abused to the point of no return.The motors have not had oil changes, the brakes are down into the roters, the transmitions are sliping, they stink of smoke and filth,the tires are all mismatched and slick, I can go on and on,If they had been such a low pay off and good buy the people that were going to lose them would have taken the cars to a Dealer and sold them for pay off to keep there credit rating and the shame of the repoman draging there car down the street in front of all the neighbors.Book Value, Blue Book, Black Book any book value is close to what a cars worth. If theres a super deal,,,,,,it ends up in the dealerships salesmans driveway......
      • 6 Months Ago
      The bottom line, which goes for ALL online purchases is: NEVER, UNDER ANY *************, SEND MONEY BY WIRE TRANSFER TO SOMEONE YOU DON'T KNOW PERSONALLY! Western Union, this etc. It cannot be traced and yo will likely be out your money.
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