Drive away from fraud

DATE: | Consumer bulletins

You are browsing around on the internet looking for a used car. Bingo! You find the perfect car at an amazing price. A dream come true? Perhaps. But if you don’t look for warning signs your dream might just become a nightmare.

The Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council wants to warn consumers about curbers, automotive sales businesses operating without the required AMVIC sales licence.

Curbers often sell cars that are stolen, damaged or odometer-tampered. Consumers who buy these vehicles are often disappointed and find that when problems arise, the seller is gone and there is no recourse.

Fake business that looks real

Sometimes curbers appear to be selling from a legitimate looking business. Some curbers are so sophisticated in their scamming operations that they have elaborate websites with inventory photos and customer reviews.

In Alberta, all automotive businesses must be licensed by AMVIC. If they are selling vehicles to consumers, they must have an AMVIC retail sales licence and all automotive salespeople must be AMVIC-registered.

Posing as a private seller

Other times curbers will pretend to be an individual selling a vehicle as a private sale. These curbers might try to tell you a sob story on why they must sell the vehicle (“it belonged to my late father and the car reminds me too much of him” or “I can’t make my mortgage payments so I have to sell my car”). Curbers may ask to meet in unusual places to remain anonymous.

Too good to be true

Perhaps it’s a rock-bottom price. Maybe it’s a rare model. A number of curbers target shoppers by advertising products or deals that seem too good to be true, too often they are. They prey on excited shoppers who do not want to take a chance on missing the “deal”. Victims can be quick to wire money or send it online. Unfortunately, the vehicle usually does not exist, or it is not as promised.

Steps to prevent fraud:

  • When browsing through vehicles online, check to see if the seller posted any other vehicles. Multiple ads from the same name, number, email address is huge a warning sign—unless the advertiser is an AMVIC-licensed dealer.
  • Do not agree to send any money online before viewing the vehicle.
  • If it’s a private sale, check if the seller is the registered owner of the vehicle. If not, it may be a warning sign.
  • Meet at the seller’s home or work address so you know where to reach them later if needed.
  • Purchase a vehicle history report.
  • Use a proper bill of sale.
  • Insist on an independent inspection. If a test drive or inspection is refused, walk away.
  • Be prepared to walk away – there will be other vehicles.
  • Buy from an AMVIC-licensed business instead. The business has clear guidelines for the advertisement and sale of vehicles that protect consumers.
  • Use AMVIC’s Curber Warning System to help you spot a curber.

If you suspect a curber or think you might be the victim of vehicle sales fraud, contact AMVIC right away. You can call AMVIC toll free at 1-877-979-8100 or file a complaint online.

If you’re not too sure if a business or salesperson is legitimate, you can use AMVIC’s search tool to look up businesses and individual salesperson’s names that are properly licensed and registered with AMVIC.

Visit amvic.org for more information on consumer protection laws for Alberta’s automotive industry.

BBB offers the following tips when online car shopping:

  • Check the vehicle’s price – Before buying a car, check out similar makes and models elsewhere.  If the price is way too low or too high, it’s probably a scam.
  • Communicate with the seller – If a seller refuses to meet in person. Or is rushing you to make a decision, this is a bad sign. At the very least, discuss the purchase with the seller on the phone to get more information about a person or a business. Sellers should also allow any buyer to inspect a vehicle before making any payment.
  • Be careful with the transaction – Be cautious of transactions in which the seller and the vehicle are in different locations. The seller may claim they are not able to take the car along because of a job move or family circumstances. Scammers also try to push for quick payments via wire payment systems, so be careful sending money with this method.
  • Check the VIN – When you check out the car, make sure the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) matches with the number on the paperwork. The VIN can be found on the car’s dashboard on the driver’s side. Make sure the VIN on the card matches the number on the insurance, title and registration.
  • Slow down – If a seller says the car will be shipped after payment is received, take time to research them and contact any transportation company to validate possible shipping arrangements.

If you believe, you’ve been scammed, contact Better Business Bureau of Central and Northern Alberta 780-482-2341 or file a complaint online.

If you want information about a business, visit bbb.org/edmonton to check them out. You can view their contact information, complaint history, view customer reviews and more.