Darren Fleming was searching for his dream car online when he came across a great deal for a vintage 1977 Porsche 911 Targa posted on a popular online automotive marketplace.
He contacted the seller right away who responded with an interesting story! The seller claimed he had retired and moved to Germany leaving his Porsche in storage in Saskatchewan with a company called ODLE. The cost of the car was $21,930 and the seller asked Darren to wire transfer the money to ODLE who would hold the money “in escrow” and ship the car to Darren in Saint John where he resided. Darren would then have five days to inspect and accept the car. If he didn’t like it — he’d get a full refund and the seller would eat the shipping costs.
Darren fell in love with the car and the deal. He felt the promise of his money being held in escrow provided a measure of safety and the professionalism of ODLE’s website gave him comfort that he was dealing with a legitimate company — that was until he read the fraud alert issued by OMVIC, Ontario’s vehicle sales regulator. Immediately after reading about online scams on OMVIC’s website, red flags became very apparent. “I was ready to send the money — that warning saved me from getting ripped off”.
What Darren had encountered was just one of the versions of ongoing internet fraud that is happening on online market-places today. According to Terry O’Keefe, OMVIC’s Director of Communications, “These scams are sophisticated. They lure potential victims with desirable vehicles usually priced below market value; and there’s always a reason why you can’t actually go and see the vehicle in person — the seller has moved and left it in storage or it’s at a dealership in the U.S. that is too far to travel to. The reality is, despite the guarantees and fancy websites and online testimonials, the seller and car are usually fictitious”.
Signs You May be Dealing with an Online Scam Artist
When buying a vehicle online, OMVIC reminds consumers to remain vigilant and protect themselves by looking out for some of the telltale signs of a scam:
• The advertisement is posted locally, but the vehicle is located a long distance away.
• There are excuses why an inspection of the vehicle isn’t possible (e.g. seller has relocated so vehicle is located in a storage/secure compound, military base, etc.).
The seller agrees to ship the vehicle with a money-back guarantee.
• The seller claims the deposit/payment will be held in trust/escrow.
• Pictures don’t reflect the season or the locale, like leaves on trees or snow (when there should/shouldn’t be any), palm trees, tropical plants. Also, what licence plates are on the vehicle pictures? If none, why not?
• The vehicle is priced below market value. If a price seems too good to be true, it’s a warning, not an opportunity.
Ultimately, if a consumer falls in love with a vehicle that turns out to be located ‘remotely’, O’Keefe says there is one step a buyer should take before handing over tens of thousands of dollars: “Travel to see the vehicle if possible, or, spend a couple of hundred bucks and hire an appraiser or mechanic to inspect the vehicle. He/she can ensure the vehicle actually exists, report on its condition and help verify the seller is who they claim to be.”
As for Darren, ultimately he didn’t fall for the scam, but he hopes sharing the story of his close call will help others from being harmed.
March is Anti-Fraud month. To learn more about how to protect yourself when buying a vehicle, visit OMVIC.ca