R.I. AG warns of online auto sales

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 16, 2011, 9:48am


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Legal Newsline) - Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin warned consumers Tuesday to be cautious of fraudulent online vehicle sales and false claims of vehicle protection programs.

Kilmartin cited the Internet Crime Complaint Center and the numerous complaints of fraudulent vehicle sales it has been receiving nationwide.

Scammers, the Attorney General's Office says, are attempting to sell vehicles they don't own or that don't exist.

The scam artist lures potential buyers by advertising vehicles drastically below book value and will try to rush the deal, Kilmartin warns.

According to the Attorney General's Office, the scam artist will ask for a full or partial payment to be sent to a third-party agent via wire transfer; the scam artist keeps the money, but doesn't deliver the vehicle.

To push the sale, the scam artist may say they need to complete the transaction quickly because they are moving, have been deployed by the military or have a family illness. As a result, the consumer is unable to physically view the vehicle before purchase, Kilmartin's office explained.

The scam artists also often misuse the names of reputable companies and programs so that the offer appears valid. In actuality, these scammers have no association with the companies, and the instructions they give buyers do not follow the rules and regulations of any legitimate program.

The Attorney General's Office pointed to the eBay Motors Vehicle Protection Plan, a reputable program whose name is frequently misused.

The scammers also are employing a new tactic to hook potential buyers -- the live chat feature in email correspondence. The scammers answer buyers' questions, giving false reassurance that the deals are safe, Kilmartin's office says.

"With advances in technology, scammers are constantly coming up with creative ways to rip off consumers," Kilmartin said in a statement.

"By falsely using the name of a reputable online retailer, these schemes commit two crimes -- defrauding consumers and damaging the credibility of legitimate businesses. I urge consumers to use caution when making online purchases."

He added, "If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is."

Kilmartin says consumers should be cautious of the following:

- Sellers who refuse to meet in person, or refuse to allow the buyer to physically inspect the vehicle before purchase;

- Transactions where the seller and vehicle are in different locations;

- Sellers who push for speedy completion of the transaction and request payments via quick wire transfer payment systems;

- Sellers who want to move the transaction from one platform to another (for example, Craigslist to eBay Motors);

- Vehicles advertised at well below their market value; and

- Sellers who claim that a buyer protection program offered by a major Internet company covers an auto transaction conducted outside of that company's site.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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