Online Car Sales Scams on the Rise

With the rise of online car sales, comes the rise of online car sales scams. While many legitimate online car sales portals have protocols in place to prevent scams, victims are falling for fraud on common platforms like Craigslist or eBay.

WATE News in Tennessee is reporting that an area man has fallen victim to an increasingly common scam: a fraudster posing as a soon-to-deploy military service member offered a good deal on a 15-year-old Toyota 4 Runner with a low price tag.

“It was a 2004. It only had 92,000 miles, it was garage kept in excellent condition,” Ethan Cunningham told WATE. “It’s got no liens or loans on it. The price was reduced to $1,800. I thought it was too good to pass up. It was a really awesome deal.”

The soldier, called “Julie,” told Cunningham that she had prearranged the sale through eBay before her deployment, so it was necessary for him to send $1,800 in eBay gift cards. Once they had the money, the scammers told Cunningham that the car was “undervalued,” and that an additional $800 was necessary for an “insurance fee.” He promptly sent the additional funds. A third contact demanded $1,000 for a “border fee,” at which time the buyer realized it was a scam.

Experts say buyers should be wary of car sales on Craigslist that involve a third party (like eBay) or involve payment via gift cards, a common way scammers get victims to pay them in an untraceable way, or sellers who make up reasons the buyer and seller cannot meet before money is exchanged. eBay has become a common background for the online scams.

Earlier this month, three individuals in Ohio were charged with in connection with a $5 million online vehicle sale scam. According to WCBE News, 35-year-old Terry Boutwell, 39-year-old Tiffany Strobl and 39-year-old Shalitha Schexnayder face charges of money laundering, with Boutwell facing additional charges of wire fraud.

“According to court documents, the scheme involved vehicle sale listings on legitimate web sites,” according to WCBE. “The trio enticed buyers by pricing the vehicles below market value and promising transactional security through an eBay Buyer Protection Program. Benjamin Glassman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, says the defendants had no such relationship with eBay and connected buyers to a fictitious eBay representative.”

Investigators estimate that the trio scammed over 600 victims throughout the U.S.