Consumer alert: Amazon online car scam

Savvy Local 10 News viewer spots scam before falling victim to fake auto sale

By Christina Vazquez - Reporter

Find a great deal on a car on-line: Watch out!

A savvy Local 10 News viewer Called Christina after narrowly avoiding a scam that utilized a name he trusted -- Amazon.com.

"I start searching for this car on Craigslist and I thought that it was an amazing deal," Edwin Reategui said.

When Reategui contacted the person, the deal seemed to get even better.

The seller claimed she was being deployed to Afghanistan and that she was selling the 2012 Toyota Prius Hatchback via Amazon.com's so-called Vehicle Purchase Protection Program.

The deal included free shipping and a 100 percent money back guarantee.

"I said, 'Wow! Amazon is selling cars now?' It gives you a little security," Reategui said.

AMAZON: "We don't sell cars:"

The seller instructed him to call Amazon at the number on the invoice to make a payment.

The problem – Amazon doesn't sell cars.

"We don't sell cars on Amazon.com," Amazon spokesman Tom Cook said. "We have heard of this before, it has happened in other areas so we tell customers to be careful. Trust is a big factor for us. Make sure if you think you are buying from Amazon that you are on Amazon.com."

Cook also confirmed that the number the seller provided Reategui was not their customer service number.

When Local 10 News investigative consumer reporter Christina Vazquez called the number, the woman who answered said she worked with eBay Motors. The woman also said she could help with an Amazon-related car purchase. After Vazquez identified herself, the woman promptly hung up. A few days later, the number was disconnected.

eBay Motors is a real online platform, but a company spokesman said the number provided to Reategui is not one of their customer service numbers.

The FBI issued a warning about scammers using false protection claims to lure online car shoppers. Tactics include con artists saying they are offering a sales price below book value because they are moving for work, to include military deployments.

"In fraudulent vehicle sales, criminals attempt to sell vehicles they do not own," the FBI said. "The criminal pockets the payment but does not deliver the vehicle."

CLUE TO A SCAM:

One clue that the offer was a scam was the email address. The invoice was sent from an email address that looked like this:

From: Amazon <vpp@supportprotection.com>

It reads Amazon but from @supportprotection.com.

"First and foremost, it is the email address," Cook said. "That's one thing that will give it away immediately. If it comes from @gmail or @ any other thing other than @amazon.com, it is not from us."

Cook recommends that viewers locate the company's legitimate customer service number on the website and call them directly, "and ask them if it came from us and they will be able to tell you within minutes if it did."

That's precisely what Edwin did. "When I called them, they said no no no… this is, this is no no no. We don't sell cars."

A CALL CHRISTINA COMMUNITY:

After narrowly avoiding being scammed, Reategui Called Christina in hopes his story will help you.

"Be aware that there are people out there, and they're trying to steal your money. Once the money is gone it's gone," he said.

RED FLAGS:

Another red flag is that the seller wanted Reategui to wire the money.

According to the FBI, shoppers should be cautious of the following situations:

* Sellers who want to move the transaction from one platform to another (for example, from Craigslist to eBay Motors.)

* Sellers who claim that a buyer protection program offered by a major Internet company covers an auto transaction conducted outside that company's site.

*  Sellers who push for speedy completion of the transaction and request payments via quick wire transfer payment systems.

*  Sellers who refuse to meet in person, or refuse to allow the buyer to physically inspect the vehicle before the purchase.

*  Transactions in which the seller and vehicle are in different locations. Criminals often claim to have been transferred for work reasons, deployed by the military, or moved because of a family circumstance, and could not take the vehicle with them.

*  Vehicles advertised at well below their market value. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

WEB EXTRA: Amazon spokesman on how to spot red flags of online scam

"Criminals also attempt to make their scams appear valid by misusing the names of reputable companies and programs," stated the FBI. "These criminals have no association with these companies, and their schemes give buyers instructions that do not adhere to the rules and restrictions of any legitimate program. For example, eBay Motors' VPP is a legitimate program whose name is commonly misused by these criminals. The VPP is not applicable to transactions that originate outside of eBay Motors, and it prohibits wire-transfer payments. Nevertheless, criminals often promise eBay Motors VPP coverage for non-eBay Motors purchases and instruct victims to pay via Western Union or MoneyGram. In a new twist, criminals use a live-chat feature in e-mail correspondence and electronic invoices. As live-chat assistants, the criminals answer victims' questions and assure them the deals are safe, claiming that safeguards are in place to reimburse buyers for any loss. The criminals falsely assert that their sales are protected by liability insurance coverage up to $50,000."

Before buying a used car, make sure to visit the Call Christina page of Local10.com and follow the Call Christina Used Car Shopping Checklist.

Follow Christina Vazquez on Twitter @CallChristinaTV

Follow Local 10 News on Twitter @WPLGLocal10

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