NASHVILLE (press release)—From June 2009 to June 2014, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received over 6,800 complaints regarding criminals targeting online consumers by posting false advertisements for high priced items such as automobiles, boats, heavy equipment, recreational vehicles, lawn mowers, tractors and other similar items. These complaints total more than $20 million in reported losses.
The scam initiates 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 email address. Once the email 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.
Consumers normally negotiate a price. 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 email that appears to be legitimate from eBay. The email provides instructions on how to complete the transaction. The perpetrator provides the consumer with all the information necessary to complete the wire transfer: 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 email that includes the fraudulent transaction or confirmation number and the expected delivery date of the item.
Any follow-up calls, text messages or emails to the perpetrator(s) are normally ignored and many victims report the toll-free customer service telephone numbers provided are constantly busy. As a result, the consumer never receives the purchased item(s) and suffers a financial loss.
The FBI recommends that consumers ensure they are purchasing the actual merchandise from a reputable source by verifying the legitimacy of the seller. Below are some consumer tips when purchasing items online:
- 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 email 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.
As a consumer, if you suspect you are a victim of an Internet related crime, you may file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov .