Editor’s Note: This story is part of an occasional series about scams reported in central Pennsylvania and how to protect yourself from them.
When Danielle Shearer, of Cumberland County, decided to sell her truck earlier this year she did what any other person would do.
“I put an ad out on Craigslist and (Facebook) Marketplace as well,” she said.
Soon after her truck was listed in April, she got flooded with messages from people claiming to be interested in buying it. Normally that would be a good thing, but these people weren’t really in the market for a used vehicle. They were trying to get her credit card number as part of a new online scam.
“It seemed like as soon as I put the ad on Craigslist is when the scams started coming through,” she said. The messages would say: “I saw your vehicle ad, I’d love to purchase your vehicle. But can you send me a VIN report?”
VIN stands for vehicle identification number, a number unique to each vehicle. It’s a way to track a vehicle’s ownership and can be important during a sale to know if a vehicle has been in prior crashes or received regular oil changes and maintenance.
But under the scam, when you provide a valid VIN report, from Carfax or another legitimate website, the “potential buyer” insists you pull the report from a website they specify, which will ask for personal information and a credit card payment of $20 or more.
“It seemed really fishy once he started pushing me to use a specific report,” Shearer said “He kept on insisting.”
The potential buyer told Shearer that he believed the unknown website was more accurate than the Carfax report for which she had already paid.
Shearer tried loading the webpage the buyer requested, but it wouldn’t load and displayed an error message, she told PennLive.
“It just didn’t make sense,” she said.
The delay gave her the opportunity to recognize it was a scam. But not before wasting a lot of her time and effort on a “sale” that was never going to happen.
Officials say there is never a good reason for a buyer to ask for another report from an unknown website. The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System’s website lists all trustworthy VIN research companies on its website.
If you buy a report from an obscure website provided by a scammer, you will likely never hear back. Instead, you are out of your money, or worse, could be subject to additional fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which tracks scams.
These scams aim to gain quick cash from the fake website, but could also use your credit card and personal information for additional fraudulent purchases or identity theft.
The websites used for these scams often end in “.vin,” which leads people to believe that it is related to their car’s vehicle identification number but it is not. The “.vin” domain was created to be used by websites relating to wine, but anyone can register a website with a “.vin” domain.
Shearer said one of the scammers who contacted her asked for her car’s VIN at one point, which also raised suspicion.
“When I realized it was a scam and tried to call him back to tell him to stop contacting me it said the number was disconnected,” she said. “They never called. It was only through messages.”
Visit ftc.gov/usedcars for information on vehicle history reports, recall notices, and how to learn if a car has a “salvage” title.
“I ended up selling my truck through a dealership,” Shearer said, where she didn’t have to worry about any more scammers contacting her.
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