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BBB warns consumers about car-sales scam

By Maria-Jose Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is advising consumers to be wary when purchasing automobiles online.

According to Fred Elsberry, Jr., president and CEO of the BBB Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens and Northeast Georgia, Inc., there is new scam, this year, involving fake car-dealership web sites.

BBB Spokesperson Dottie Callina said consumers should exercise extreme caution when buying vehicles online and "do their research before agreeing to the sale," because they may lose thousands of dollars to scammers, who create false car-dealership web sites. Scammers are posing as legitimate car dealerships, through these web sites, she said.

The false web sites are usually posted for a few days, and then deleted, only to reappear under a different URL-- or Uniform Resource Locator address -- as a different, legitimate car dealership, according to Elsberry.

"Because scammers essentially steal the identity and good name of real auto dealers, car shoppers will think that they're buying a car from a reputable business," said Elsberry. "The truth is, they're being sold a bill of goods by a coordinated, agile, and, in all likelihood, overseas outfit of scammers."

The BBB advises consumers to be suspicious of web sites offering too-good-to-be-true deals on repossessed vehicles, added Callina, in a statement.

When shopping for a vehicle online, the BBB recommends that consumers look for warning signs, such as if the prices are well below market value; if the dealer only communicates by chat or e-mail; and if the dealer only accepts payment by money wire transfer, she said.

The bureau has heard complaints from consumers, across the U.S., who thought they were doing business with an actual car dealer, she said.

Most of the consumers who have been robbed in this way, have lived in Florida and Tennessee, said Elsberry, during a phone interview. However, he said there have been some automobile dealerships in Georgia whose names have been used in false web sites. So far, he said, no scam victims have been reported in Georgia.

Recently, America Auto Sales, a car dealership in Memphis, Tenn., received 1,000 telephone calls from consumers across the nation, who thought they had bought a vehicle through the dealership's legitimate web site, but, who had, instead, shopped through a phony web site, Callina said. The false web site used America Auto Sales' name, address and contact information, she said.

"The fraudulent web site claimed to sell repossessed cars at prices well below market [value]," said Callina. "Buyers were instructed to wire a deposit -- as much as $5,000 -- to an individual, rather than a company, which, according to the phony web site, 'helps us avoid taxes legally.' The balance was to be paid upon delivery at the consumer's address within five days," she said.

After the deposit for the vehicle was paid, victims contacted the actual dealership to arrange the delivery of the vehicle they thought they had purchased, said Callina. Some victims actually went to the dealership to pick up their supposedly purchased vehicles, only to find that they had not been in contact with the actual dealership.

For more information, visit the www.bbb.org.