How To Avoid Online Car Buying Scams

November 1, 2010

My father gave me one hard and fast rule about business – never turn down money. But that is what a Lubbock, Texas, used car dealer has had to do as result of an online scam that has relied on a look-a-like name, inadvertent erroneous visuals, and you guessed it, deals that were too good to be true.

Lubbock Online reported that someone is piggybacking on the name of Platinum Auto Sales. Since the fake site has launched on October 17th, the volume of inquiries has been so elevated that the dealer has devised a script of sorts for his staff to recite when excited would-be customers contact the store about deals they have discovered online.

Some are in the last throes of the transaction, which is when Charles Bates, the owner of the real Platinum Auto Sales, has to violate my father’s first rule of business. “They’re fixing’ to send us the money, and we’re telling them, ‘Don’t do it, it’s a scam,’” he said.

Bates has never had a website but that hasn’t stopped from attracting attention from as far away as an army base in Iraq. When the whole thing didn’t pass a 1st sergeant’s sniff test, the investigation reached a new level that included Bates’ staff advising callers on how to lodge an internet fraud complaint with the FBI.

By the way, what made the NCO suspicious was a last-minute online chat session conducted just before wiring funds to close the deal. In it he noticed grammar usage that was strange for someone chatting from Lubbock. There were also some misspellings of very small words. Whether this degree of scrutiny is learned in the military or not,  it is a skill that might be helpful in car dealing stateside or anywhere on the planet.

The scammers used an old address for Platinum Auto Sales. It was one that when doing a Google Maps search will display Bates’ old sign. Whether coincidence or an example of the shortcomings of the latest tools available, it demonstrates how ones best efforts to stay out of trouble can go awry.

Just how good were these deals? Well, according to Lubbock Online they were advertised as “high-quality repossessed vehicles at with [sic] markdowns as much as 70 percent and promising free nationwide delivery to the buyer’s home.” The army sergeant was drawing a bead on a 2007 Chrysler 300 for $8117 that valued at $14,865.

This account has implications for all Internet car shopping. If the consumer strays away from the big accepted sites, it is wise to shop extremely cautiously. The key here was the call to the physical location. There is something about shopping online that makes it hard for anyone to make that call, but in this case it resulted in uncovering a major scam.

My father had another rule: “Never turn down a good deal.” After this story I’ll think twice about following that advice.

[Lubbock Online]   

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