• Buying a vehicle online can be a great experience, but it can also turn into a nightmare.
• A supposed dealer with an address in Maine managed to fool at least one buyer, and disappoint several others.
• With spring on our doorstep there will be more classic cars on the market, so caution is advised.
Online shopping is becoming increasingly common for those looking for a vehicle, particularly an older one. However, even if everything goes well in the majority of cases, there are cases that serve to warn us to be careful regarding scams.
One recent case occurred in Maine where a supposed classic car dealer giving an address in a rural corner of the state was able to rip at least one buyer and possibly more, by accepting deposits for vehicles that they simply did not have to sell. In fact, there is no business at all at the listed address.
The fake dealership, officially called VNKC, LLC, had that listed address in a small town in Maine. The operators of that “dealership” and the money of at least one victim have not yet been found.
The Bangor Daily News reported that after receiving four complaints, the executive director of the Houlton City Chamber of Commerce went to the address of the alleged dealership, but found no business there.
It's not clear how many people were scammed, but none appear to be from Maine, at least as far as the state knows. The Autoblog outlet contacted the Maine Office of Consumer Protection, which confirmed it has not received any complaints from Maine residents in relation to this scam.
That's probably to be expected. A buyer who’s in the near-vicinity of a vehicle they’re considering buying is far more likely to go see it in person. But buyers who live thousands of miles away are more likely to be willing to make a purchase sight unseen.
It’s easy to assume buyers are being overly gullible to fall for such a scam, but in many cases the scammers are very well organized. In this case, potential buyers were given fake registration certificates, vehicle consignment documents, bills of sale and VIN numbers (also fake).
One Oklahoma buyer, hoping to get their hands on a 1987 Chevrolet Blazer, said they exchanged communications with the “dealer” for over a month, but the phone number was disconnected once the expected delivery date passed.
Some would-be victims were more fortunate, recovering their money before it disappeared. One Florida man said he sent a payment of $35,000 USD to purchase a rare 1970 Buick GSX, but then thought to call the local chamber of commerce. Told that the depository did not exist, he was able to get payment stopped on his cheque before it was cashed.
He then saw the same car on other classic car sales sites, adding insult to injury.
The phony company's ISP is registered in Lithuania and the website owner has an address in Alexandra, Virginia. No one has been arrested so far. The FBI is on the case and the Maine Attorney General's office has been contacted.
With spring arriving and with it an increase in car transactions, this cautionary tale reminds all of us to be extremely careful. And, never forget that when something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
There's nothing like seeing a vehicle in person before you buy.