FBI Portland
Portland Media Office
(503) 460-8060
March 20, 2018

FBI Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense Against Online Vehicle Sale Frauds

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week, building a digital defense against frauds involving the online sale of vehicles and equipment.

This fraud can involve the sale of anything from cars and trucks to RV’s, boats, and outdoor gear. Since 2014, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has recorded about 27,000 reports of this kind of scam costing victims more than $54 million in losses.

Here’s how it works. You are online—perhaps searching for a new car. You come across an ad for something you really like, and the price listed is really good. You e-mail or text back and forth with the supposed seller—getting photos and information about the purchase. You question why the price is so much below market value, and the scam artist has an easy answer. Perhaps he received it in a divorce settlement or inherited it from a deceased relative. In some cases, he may say that he is moving soon or is in the military and is getting deployed quickly.

The fraudster may also appear legitimate by claiming a relationship with a reputable company, such as eBay, or a third party, which provides a “buyer protection program.” He will send you an e-mail—purportedly from this third party who is managing the transaction. This is all designed to make you feel good about this deal, when in reality this cyber thief is setting you up. The e-mail tells you to call a toll free number, and the call taker will walk you through how you will transfer the money. In many cases, the call taker tells you to purchase prepaid gift cards, provide those card codes to the middle man, and then simply wait for delivery of your item.

Of course, the car, RV, or boat never shows up—and the alleged seller is long gone, not answering phone calls, e-mails, or texts.

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself:

  • If the price is well below market value—take that as a warning.
  • Research the item and the seller thoroughly, including the seller’s name, e-mail address, and phone numbers.
  • Research any third party businesses that the seller recommends and confirm that that business is legit. Remember that the fraudster will attempt to make himself and these third parties look real by spoofing names, websites, and e-mail addresses.
  • Always verify eBay and PayPal purchases directly through the Web sites, as many scammers send fake e-mail invoices to falsify payment or shipment of items.
  • Avoid sellers who refuse to meet in person or who will not allow you to physically inspect the car or item ahead of time.
  • Ask for the vehicle’s VIN and license plate number as well as the name of the person who is the current registered owner. Research that information through your state licensing agency or online databases if possible.

Bottom line: Always remember that if the deal appears too good to be true, it probably is.

If you have been victimized by this online scam or any other cyber fraud, be sure to also report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your local FBI office.