Thinking of buying a car online? Learn to recognize the signs you may be dealing with a scam!
More and more consumers are going online to purchase vehicles, especially those looking for a particular model or one with specific options.
Darren Fleming of Saint John New Brunswick is one such consumer. Searching for his dream car on AutoTRADER, he came across this great deal for a vintage 1977 Porsche 911 Targa.
Darren contacted the seller. “He claimed he’d retired and moved to Germany and he’d hired a German company, ODLE Speditionsges, to sell the car which was stored in Regina.” The purchase funds ($21,930) were to be sent via wire transfer to ODLE who would hold the money “in escrow” and ship the Porsche to Darren in Saint John. Darren would then have five days to inspect the car. If he didn’t like it – he’d get a full refund and the seller would eat the shipping costs.
Darren fell in love with the car and the deal. He felt the promise of his money being held in escrow provided a measure of safety and the professionalism of the ODLE website gave him comfort that he was dealing with a legitimate company – that was until he read the fraud alert issued by OMVIC, which AutoTRADER graciously posts on all private ads. Immediately after reading the OMVIC news release, alarm bells went off. “I was ready to send the money – that warning saved me from getting ripped off.”
What Darren had encountered was just one of the latest versions of ongoing internet frauds operated by international organized crime rings. According to Terry O’Keefe, Director of Communications for OMVIC, “These scams are sophisticated. They lure potential victims with desirable vehicles usually priced below market value; but there’s always a reason why you can’t actually go and see the vehicle in person – the seller has moved and left it in storage or it’s at a dealership in the U.S. that is too distant to easily visit. The reality is, despite the guarantees, professional websites and online testimonials, the seller and car are usually fictitious.”
Shortly after Darren contacted OMVIC, ODLE’s website disappeared.
Darren hopes publicizing his narrow escape will help educate others. “I’m a fairly savvy consumer, but these guys were good – they had all the right answers, an impressive online presence and they had the car of my dreams – it was a combination that nearly cost me.”
So how do you protect yourself when shopping online for a vehicle? How can you tell if the seller is legitimate? According to OMVIC there are some telltale signs you may be dealing with a scam:
- The ad is posted locally but the vehicle is located a long distance away
- There are excuses why an inspection of the vehicle isn’t possible (e.g. located in a secure compound/military base/etc.)
- The seller agrees to ship the vehicle to the buyer with a money back guarantee
- Pictures – don’t reflect the season (leaves on trees/snow/etc.) or locale (palm trees in Canada? What licence plates are on vehicle – if none, why not?)
- Phone number is faulty or goes straight to voicemail
- A specific photo requested by the buyer cannot be provided
Finally, any consumer considering buying a vehicle in another state or province, whether from a dealer or private seller, should consider the following:
- Beware of a price that is considerably lower than the average market price. If a price seems too good to be true – that’s a warning, not an opportunity
- Travel to see the vehicle (don’t rely on pictures or a convincing website) or hire a local appraiser or mechanic to inspect the vehicle. They can ensure the vehicle actually exists and the seller is who they claim to be
- Check with state or provincial regulators/authorities to ensure dealers are licensed
- Don’t wire money or provide a credit card number without first doing all homework
- Don’t do it - consider that the savings are probably not worth the gamble, particularly in light of the rapid proliferation of these scams
Only when consumers buy from an OMVIC-Registered Dealer are they protected by Ontario’s consumer protection laws and have access to the Motor Vehicle Dealers Compensation Fund.
Toronto Dealer Licence Revoked – Salesperson Fined
1716114 Ontario Ltd. operating as Your Car Auto Finance (YCAF) and its sole officer and director, Derek Booth, have had their licences revoked after OMVIC issued a Proposal to Revoke Registration and the dealer abandoned its appeal. In a related discipline proceeding, Scott Edwards, a former salesperson at YCAF, was found in breach of OMVIC’s Code of Ethics and fined $12,500.
In its Proposal OMVIC alleged YCAF and Booth failed, in a timely manner, to remove liens from vehicles traded-in. This resulted in consumers making unnecessary payments or receiving unwarranted enquiries/demands from financial institutions. In one instance it was alleged the dealership sold a vehicle and did not discharge an existing lien. OMVIC also alleged the dealer provided bills of sale with odometer readings that were often lower than the readings shown on other documents in the dealer’s possession and on other historical odometer records.
In addition, OMVIC alleged financial terms and sale prices for the vehicles provided on some customers’ bills of sale differed from those in the dealer’s records. “Our inspection and subsequent follow-up uncovered a business model we believe was heavily weighted towards soliciting business from financially disadvantaged consumers who were deceived regarding vehicle history and financing issues. Many of these consumers were from First Nations reserves in remote Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia communities,” explained Laura Halbert, OMVIC Director of Compliance. “In speaking to some of these consumers it was clear they never saw their vehicles in advance of delivery and most didn’t immediately scrutinize the documentation.” The dealer and Booth avoided detection until OMVIC inspection activities uncovered the problems.
One of the dealership’s salespeople, Scott Edwards, was involved in many of the suspect transactions. In an Agreed Statement of Facts before OMVIC’s Discipline Committee, Edwards admitted breaching OMVIC’s Code of Ethics. He specifically acknowledged his failure to meet legal duties, including his professional obligation to prevent errors, misrepresentations, fraud and unethical practices. In addition to the fine Edwards was ordered to successfully complete the OMVIC Certification Course.
OMVIC is aware of one consumer who purchased a vehicle with an undischarged lien from Booth. “We have successfully worked with the finance company on the consumer’s behalf to resolve that problem,” explained Halbert. However OMVIC wants to ensure there are no other consumers unknowingly caught in a similar situation and recommends ALL Your Car Auto Finance customers do the following:
- Check with their bank/finance company to ensure liens were removed from vehicles they may have traded-in to YCAF
- Conduct a lien check on vehicles purchased from YCAF
- Contact their finance company to confirm the finance terms/details on their loan documentation matches those of the finance company
- Confirm the odometer reading on the Bill of Sale is consistent with both the finance company’s documents and historical odometer records. Note: Lien and historical odometer information can often be found in the Used Vehicle Information Package (UVIP) available from Service Ontario and in online vehicle history reports such as CarProof.
- If an extended warranty was purchased, check with the warranty company to confirm coverage and terms
Should a consumer discover serious discrepancies they should contact OMVIC’s Complaints and Inquiries Team at 1-800-943-6002 x5105. Consumers who suffer a financial loss as a result of a trade with an OMVIC-Registered Dealer may have access to the Motor Vehicle Dealers Compensation Fund.
HAVE YOU HEARD
Purchasing a Boat, Trailer or RV? Know When You’re Protected!
Summer is officially here and you may be thinking about buying some new ‘toys’! Did you know if a consumer purchases a motorhome (a driveable RV) from a registered dealer they are protected by OMVIC and the Motor Vehicle Dealers Act (MVDA)? In the rare instance they encounter a problem with the registered dealership where the transaction took place, OMVIC may be able to assist; it also means the consumer is protected by the Motor Vehicle Dealers Compensation Fund!
It should be noted however that ATV, pull trailer, boat or personal water craft purchases are not covered by the MVDA; however if the purchase is from a business they may still be protected by the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) administered by the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. The CPA offers important protections to consumers including contract cancellation rights should a business make a false, misleading, deceptive or unconscionable representation.
OMVIC administers and enforces the Motor Vehicle Dealers Act (MVDA) on behalf of the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. OMVIC maintains a fair and informed vehicle sales marketplace by regulating dealers and salespersons, regularly inspecting Ontario's 8,000 dealerships and 25,000 salespeople, maintaining a complaint line for consumers and conducting investigations and prosecutions of industry misconduct and illegal sales (curbsiding). OMVIC is also responsible for administering the Motor Vehicle Dealers Compensation Fund on behalf of its Board of Trustees.