Let's face it: the Internet is a great tool for buying and comparing car prices and deals. The wealth of information at one's fingertips is astonishing. However, there are also a lot of crooks, bastards, swindlers, con artists, shysters, and sons of bitches out there. This is the story of how I found one such fraud.
It all started about a year ago when the Mrs and I talked about what the next car/SUV/horseless carriage purchase would be. The unofficial policy in our house is a new/used car purchase alternates between us every 4-5 years, so only one car payment hits our bank account. My head started spinning with ideas with really nothing coming to the forefront. That was until 3 months ago when I saw one of my co-workers pull up next to me in his VW Touareg (which will hearby known as simply 'Tou'). Good lines, AWD, German practicality, air-cooled glove box! As I began my search, I narrowed down the hunt for a TDI once I found the improved gas mileage and muy fuerte torque-ness.
Now here's where the fun begins. CarMax, AutoTempest, Cars.com were all players in the game. I even had a few Jalops working at car dealers offering to help! Yay, Internet! Unfortunately nothing was in my $30-35K wheelhouse with all the options I was looking for. That all changed a few days ago when I stumbled across this little gem on AutoTrader:
Holy crap! Was I seeing this right? 2012 with 19K miles and clear CarFax within my budget??? Where's the damn phone?!
I settled down as not to appear too desperate, so instead, I emailed the person selling the Tou. Just the usual generic questions in a short email to avoid any embarrassment.
Like a lonely girl on a Saturday night, I waited and waited by my Inbox for that reply. Two days later, a message appeared in my Junk email folder with the subj line of 2012 Touareg $32,500. WOOT! As I read thru the email, the 'dealer' provided me with the VIN I asked for and informed me that it was still available. He also sent me a link to his website which had a TON of pics for me to look at. Silver metallic paint in perfect condition; two-tone gray and saddle colored seats, panoramic sunroof, tow-hitch. WINNER! But the love affair soon diminished when I felt something was not right.
I asked for a CarFax report from my pals on Oppo (thanks NTL0505), and was even more puzzled when it came back as last serviced 2 months ago in Ohio. Uh, wut?
As I started to look thru dealer website a little closer, I noticed that there was no pic of the Tou's actual mileage. Odd, but perhaps it was just an oversight. I also noticed that the rear license plate had another dealer's name on it. Once again, perhaps it was just flipped recently. I was even more perplexed when the pics of the Tou's GPS had the SUV squarely near downtown Dallas, TX! But by far the biggest issue was the dealer's contact info pointed to an address in Mobile, Alabama with absolutely no car lot anywhere to be seen on Google Maps. Take a look for yourself!
Wanting to get to the bottom of this problem, I decided to call the guy and see what was going on. Sure enough, the 'dealer' answered with Euro accent. (Are there even Euros in the Deep South???) He said that he just purchased the car 2-3 days ago and it was, in fact, on the lot. I confronted him with questions about the validity of the pics and the condition of the car. He claimed that the pics on his website were his own. I pushed further about the location of the car/dealership in Mobile. My exact quote was:
"So, is the address on your website correct? Because all I see on Google Maps street view is an industrial area near a private airfield? I don't see your dealership anywhere."
That sunofabitch hung up on me! I immediately called back: 3 rings then busy signal. I called back again: 1 ring then busy signal. WTF just happened?!?!
Realizing I probably stumbled into a fraud situation, I called the dealer who's pics were featured in the fakey ad. I asked Igor (yes his real name), if he has that particular Tou on his lot. Once I gave him the web address, it took him 2 seconds to realize "Yes, those are our pictures. We sold that SUV a year ago. This guy is a fake! He wants $32 grand? We sold it for over $40! No wonder it's a good deal!"
As I'm talking to him more, he tells me that he's gonna call the guy selling the fake Tou. I wish I had a recording device not on my phone because Igor goes into an all-out Euro-justice threatening tirade on the fake dealer. For some reason, I started visualizing any phone conversation scene from Taken between those bad Albanian dudes. It was hilarious!
After the entertaining phone call exchange, Igor tells me that this sort of thing happens more than you'd think. He noticed that the phone connection was lousy, leaving him to believe that the calls being re-routed to a completely different state. Heck, the fake dealer had the cojones to use some of same location pics from the real dealership in Dallas!
No question that the hoax is fueled (pun intended) by people desperate to get their hands on a good deal, so customers are wiring money for deposits to secure the car without doing any homework or research. Obviously, there is no car, and the business vanishes like a virgin on prom night once they have your money. Yup, this is kinda like the Nigerian Banking hoax, only with cars. (and Albanians, apparently)
I did not have the foresight to take a screen cap of all the pics of the Tou but my buddy Igor called me back 20 minutes later to tell me that the listing was pulled from the site. I'm kind of shocked the entire site hasn't come down and is still up and running!
I want to report the fake dealer but not really sure which authorities to call. Anyone?
BOTTOM LINE: DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND DIG A LITTLE DEEPER INTO BUSINESSES AND PEOPLE YOU DEAL WITH ONLINE.