GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - It is a growing scam online that has tricked people into buying classic or collectable cars that don't exist.
Officials with the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota believe crooks are setting up fake websites where you can score great deals on classic or collectible cars.
They say two out-of-state buyers have already lost more than $50,000.
"It exists for the sole purpose of convincing consumers to wire them money sight unseen for a vehicle that they unfortunately will never receive," said Steve Farr, an auto industry liaison with the BBB.
Websites are popping up all over the country, Farr said. The latest one is called Carsten Autos, which lists its address at 333 Washington Avenue North in Minneapolis.
"You've got a server in Russia, registered through a domain name in China, claiming to be located in Ohio with a business in Minnesota. It's fraudulent," said Farr.
OffiCenters and Virtual OffiCenters is the actual business at the Washington Avenue address. Company officials say they've been getting mail for Carsten Autos and some people have even been showing up asking to see vehicles.
"We just had someone come in (Thursday). It was a couple and they had driven quite a ways to look at an old car," said Manager Ana Genz-Wall.
Instead that couple was met by a confused receptionist and a parking lot filled with other people's cars.
OffiCenters and Virtual OffiCenters have both physical space and virtual space for legitimate companies. Genz-Wall says they've never heard of Carsten Autos before and adds they work hard vetting the more than 500 legitimate clients they serve.
The BBB believes these companies try to look legitimate in hopes of snaring buyers with deals that are too good to be true.
"Prices that are substantially below what you would expect to pay for these classic and collectable cars," said Farr. "In most cases they're actually copying and pasting these photos and text direct from other legitimate car dealerships or in some cases private party listings."
The BBB has asked the company that issued the domain name to take the website down, but as of Friday night it was still online. They have been successful forcing other domain companies to shut the websites down.
The bottom line, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
"Anytime you're looking to buy a vehicle or a major purchase across state lines, you're introducing an element of chance," he said.
That is why it is best to do your homework. You can look up the license of any legitimate business in the state by going to the Minnesota Secretary of State's website. The BBB can also help answer questions.
"This scam has really taken off now. I feel like it's here to stay. So the best we can do is monitor the market place very closely," said Dan Hendrickson, a BBB spokesperson.
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