As an update to I-111414-PSA,
released November 14, 2014, the FBI is issuing additional information
and warnings regarding the fraudulent online sale of cars, recreational
vehicles, boats, and other outdoor equipment. Criminals are posting
online advertisements of items that are not, nor have ever been, within
From May 2014 through December 2017, the IC3 received approximately
26,967 complaints with adjusted losses of $54,032,396 related to these
types of fraudulent sales.
The fraudulent advertisements usually include photos matching the
description of the vehicle for sale and a phone number or email address
to contact the supposed seller. Once the initial contact is established,
the criminal sends the intended buyer additional photos along with a
seemingly logical explanation for the item's discounted price and the
time-sensitive nature of the transaction. Common explanations given by
the perpetrators include (but are not limited to):
- Seller is moving to another location or being deployed by the military
- Seller received the vehicle as part of a divorce settlement
- Vehicle belonged to a relative who has died
The criminal makes the fraud appear legitimate by deceptively claiming
partnership with reputable companies, such as eBay, and using the names
of these third parties with whom they have no actual association. The
criminal assures the buyer that the transaction will occur through a
third party's Buyer Protection Program; the criminal then immediately
sends an email to the buyer with a fraudulent toll-free number that
impersonates the third party. The buyer is told to purchase prepaid gift
cards in the amount of the agreed upon sale price and is instructed to
share the prepaid card codes with the criminal. The criminal notifies
the buyer they will be receiving the vehicle within a couple of days.
After the transaction goes through, the criminal typically ignores all
follow-up calls, text messages, or emails from the buyer or demands
additional payments. The vehicle is not delivered and the buyer is
never able to recuperate their losses.
Defense and Mitigation
The FBI recommends that consumers interested in purchasing items online
ensure they are purchasing from a reputable source by verifying the
legitimacy of the seller and their actual possession of the merchandise.
Below are some consumer tips when purchasing vehicles online:
- When it comes to making any purchases, be cautious of
items being advertised well below their market value. Remember, if the
deal appears too good to be true, it probably is.
- Use the
Internet to research the advertised item and the seller's name, email
addresses, telephone numbers, and other unique identifiers.
the Internet to research the company's contact information and its
shipping and payment policies before completing a transaction. Ensure
the legitimacy of the contact information and that the company accepts
the requested payment option.
- Avoid sellers who refuse to meet
in person or who refuse to allow the buyer to physically inspect the
vehicle before the purchase. For high-priced purchases, insist on
speaking to the seller over the phone to establish their legitimacy.
for the vehicle's VIN number, license plate (if possible), and the name
of the individual to whom the car is currently registered.
you are suspicious or unsure about an email that claims to be from a
legitimate business, locate the business online and contact it directly.
Criminals take extra effort to disguise themselves and may include
familiar or recognizable words in their email address or domain name.
Filing a Complaint
Individuals who believe they may be a victim of, or have knowledge of,
an online scam (regardless of dollar amount) can file a complaint with
the IC3 at www.ic3.gov.
When filing with the IC3, please be as descriptive as possible in the complaint and include the following information:
- All identifying subject information: names, phone numbers, email addresses, IP addresses, and any websites used.
names, numbers, addresses, and financial institutions that received any
funds (e.g., wire transfers, prepaid card payments).
of interaction with the subject: dates, advertisement websites, vehicle
types, means of communication, payment methods, and anything that stood
out as odd or suspicious.
Complainants are also encouraged to keep all original documentation, emails, faxes, and logs of communications.
Because scams and fraudulent websites can emerge and change very
quickly, individuals are encouraged to report any possible Internet
scams and fraudulent websites by filing a complaint with the IC3 at www.ic3.gov. To view previously released PSAs and Scam Alerts, visit the IC3 Press Room at www.ic3.gov/media/default.aspx.