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Consumers warned of online car sale scams.

An investigation exposed a fake car dealership called Auto-Promotions that defrauded victims out of thousands of pounds. The rise in fraud cases has led to consumers being warned to beware of scams before buying second-hand cars online.

Almost 3,000 cases of online vehicle fraud were reported in 2021, a 21% rise from 2019. Consumer groups have also warned the scam could be reported as people are increasingly moving to the internet for a bargain online.

Pietro Pagliuca, West Yorkshire, transferred about £4,000 to Auto-Promotions for a second-hand Nissan Qashqai. Auto-Promotions was a legitimate car dealership that was imitated to appear legitimate. The family company has nothing to do with the fake website being investigated but is still listed on Companies House– the government agency that records businesses’ details.

Pietro decided to transfer the cash after a phone chat with an apparent “sales director.” He trusted the company due to what he thought was a company stamp on the invoice he received. He got half of the money back after he reported the online transaction to his bank.

The Auto-Promotions website was active from March to early September, when it was forced shut by police following the investigation. It advertised hundreds of second-hand vehicles at attractive prices. The car details were probably taken from legitimate online websites where they were priced more.

How to avoid fraud when buying cars online:
  • Do not transfer money online.
  • Use safer options like credit card or PayPal.
  • Research the dealership prior to sending any money, like the registration number.
  • Ensure that the documents are available.
  • Buy from an approved dealer, and stick to a local dealer if possible.

National Trading Standards passed the website as legitimate due to the extent of detail involved. The fake website included professional headshots of “staff”— people who had no idea their photos were being used.

England, Wales, and Northern Ireland reported 2,969 reports of online vehicle fraud in 2021, up by 21% from 2,459 in 2019. Consumers were duped by about £9.5m last year owing to these scams.

According to National Trading Standards, consumers looking for a bargain due to the cost of living crisis, added to the new car supply problems, presented a demand that criminals readily exploit.

Mike Andrews, eCrime head, said this scam was the first to have conducted a con of this scale. An odd car for sale on platforms is usual, but setting up an entire website to defraud consumers is very peculiar, he said.

The consumers defrauded are not the only victims.
Harry Cairney, the owner of Fife garage, whose address was falsely listed on Auto-Promotions, received hundreds of calls in recent months asking about the vehicles advertised on the website. He was also confronted by angry customers; he then put up an alert on his garage’s Facebook page about the scam.

But the closure of the website does not necessarily mean the end of the fraud; the criminals often quickly set up another website in a matter of days. So, make sure to do thorough research before trusting someone with your money.

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