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Forum staff reports, Published March 19 2013

Better Business Bureau warns of phony online auto dealers

BURNSVILLE, Minn. – The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota is alerting car buyers to several incidents involving phony auto dealer websites claiming to be located in North Dakota.

“Buying a car online calls for a considerable amount of due diligence,” Steve Farr, auto industry liaison for the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota, stated in a release.

Farr said consumers should research online car dealers as carefully as they research vehicle makes and models, particularly when purchasing from an unfamiliar dealership in another part of the country.

In three recent cases investigated by the Better Business Bureau, the agency identified bogus auto dealer websites featuring high-end luxury cars priced thousands of dollars below book value.

The websites claimed addresses in North Dakota and provided one or more North Dakota phone numbers.

The Better Business Bureau was able to get the websites shut down but not before two victims had spent tens of thousands of dollars for vehicles they did not receive.

The most recent incident was in February, when a consumer in Hawaii contacted the Better Business Bureau about a website purporting to represent “Nationwide Motor Center,” with an address in Grand Forks.

In that case, the Internet provider for the website shut down the site when presented with findings the dealership and its inventory did not exist.

With such scams continuing to pop up, the Better Business Bureau offers these tips when considering an auto purchase online:

• If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

• Research the dealer. Start by vising BBB.org, to verify that the business has a listing and complete contact information.

• Employ a little detective work; if a vehicle listing provides a vehicle identification number, a simple Google search will show whether the same listing appears elsewhere on the Web.

• Watch for geographic inconsistencies.

Many of the vehicle photos on the bogus North Dakota auto dealer websites showed palm trees and mountain ranges in the background.

The Better Business Bureau may be reached from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday by calling (651) 699-1111 or toll-free at (800) 646-6222.