After an investigation into a complicated car scam, Northumberland County Council’s public protection service is warning people to be cautious when buying vehicles online.
The investigation started after a potential buyer from Wales contacted the council’s trading standards after seeing an Audi advertised online, supposedly from a company address in the area. The buyer was tempted to purchase it and wanted to know if the company was legitimate.
The company selling the car claimed that they had been employed to sell the car on behalf of the owner, who was abroad. The company gave a Manchester address as its head office and also claimed to have offices in St Austell, London and an address in Berwick upon Tweed where the vehicle was supposedly in storage.
Further investigation revealed that the car had been advertised for sale by the real owner on an internet market place; the photograph in that advert had been copied and used to set up a fake advert at an address in Berwick that did not exist. This advert had also appeared on a well-known vehicle sales site.
Advance fee fraud
The fraudsters required full or part payment up front before the car could be viewed. All correspondence with the fake business was carried out by email. Telephone numbers were given but the calls were never answered.
Coun Dave Ledger, Deputy Leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “This is quite a sophisticated scam that relies entirely on the fraudster’s ability to hide on the internet.
Everything about the sale of this car was fake; they had no car to sell, the address was made up, there’s no evidence that the criminals are even in the UK. Many of us use the internet to buy online, but people need to be cautious; parts of it are still like the wild-west.”
Follow these prevention tips from Citizens Advice when buying a car online:
- If you find a car you would like to buy - try to go and see the car in person before paying a deposit or agreeing to purchase it.
- Always meet at the seller’s home or business premises - otherwise it could be difficult to find them again if things go wrong later.
- Pay safely - using a credit card will give you better protection against shopping fraud.
- Print out the advert - the description, photos and other information will give you evidence if things go wrong later.
For further information visit Northumberland County Council’s website.
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To report a fraud and receive a police crime reference number, call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use our online fraud reporting tool.