FBI: Crooks have stolen $20 million with false Internet ads

Many people should be wary of Internet ads, especially for large ticket items, but apparently enough folks aren’t. The Internet Crime Complaint Center today said over $20 million has been scammed and more than 6,800 complaints have been logged between June 2009 and June 2014 over rip-off ads.

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The criminals have mostly been targeting online consumers with false advertisements for high priced items such as automobiles, boats, heavy equipment, recreational vehicles, lawn mowers, tractors and other high-end gear.

The IC3 says the scam starts when the criminals post a false advertisement offering the item for sale. The advertisement usually includes a fraudulent photo to entice the consumer to purchase the item. Within the advertisement, the criminal includes a contact telephone number. The consumer leaves a message and the perpetrator responds via text message. The text message normally requests that the consumer provide an e-mail address. Once the e-mail address is provided the consumer is sent additional details to include multiple images of the item for sale. The perpetrator provides logical reasons for offering the item at such a discounted price such as moving to another location; therefore, the item needs to be sold quickly; the sale was part of a divorce settlement; or overseas deployment, the agency stated.

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Then the scam typically moves like this:

  • Many scammers advise the consumer the transaction will be conducted through Ebay to ensure a safe and easy transaction.
  • In reality the scammer is only pretending to use Ebay. The consumer receives a false e-mail that appears to be legitimate from Ebay. The e-mail provides instructions on how to complete the transaction.
  • The perpetrator provides the consumer with all the information necessary to complete the wire transfer - the bank account name, address, and account number. The scammer provides a fraudulent toll-free Ebay customer service number for the consumer to use when they are ready to wire the money.
  • These numbers were also used by many victims to confirm a successful wire transfer or to check transaction status and shipping information.
  • After the transaction, the consumer is sent a false Ebay confirmation e-mail that includes the fraudulent transaction or confirmation number and the expected delivery date of the item.
  • Any follow-up calls, text messages or e-mails to the perpetrator(s) are normally ignored and many victims report the toll-free customer service telephone numbers provided are constantly busy.

While most of these recommendations may seem obvious to some, the FBI recommends that consumers ensure they are purchasing the actual merchandise from a reputable source by verifying the legitimacy of the seller. Other online shopping tips include:

  • Use Search engines or other websites to research the advertised item or person/company selling the item.
  • Search the Internet for any negative feedback or reviews on the seller, their e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, or other searchable identifiers.
  • Research the company policies before completing a transaction. For example, ensure the seller accepts payments via credit card as Ebay does not conduct wire transfers and only uses PayPal to conduct transactions.
  • Be cautious when responding to advertisements and special offers.
  • Be cautious when dealing with persons/companies from outside the country.
  • Maintain records for all online transactions.
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