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May 8, 2020 3:00 PM, EDT

Minnesotans Lose Thousands in Auto Dealer-Shipper Scam

Minnesotans have lost thousands of dollars on an auto shipper-dealer scheme.(SergeyTikhomirov/Getty Images)

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The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning Minnesotans about scams in which auto dealers and shippers ask customers to wire money for cars they have bought online.

The problem is neither the cars nor the companies exist.

Several people who wired money for vehicles listed for an improbably low price on a website are now out thousands of dollars through the scheme, including one customer who lost $34,000 and a second who lost $10,000, said Bao Vang, communications director for the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota.

Fergus Transportation, Nebula Freight, MN Express Logistics, Hashi Freight, Ziegler/Zeigler Freight, WDS Transport and USTopCars.com are among the companies the BBB has identified as fake companies and put warnings on their business profiles.

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“MN Express Logistics is not a legitimate vehicle shipping company, but a ‘fake vehicle shipper’ scheme designed to get customers shopping for vehicles online to wire money for vehicles they will never ultimately receive,” one warning reads.

The warnings advise would-be car buyers not to wire money to these sellers and to cut off communications with them.

The ruse begins with a vehicle placed for sale on a website such as Craigslist or Oodle. The ads with pictures sometimes explain why the cars are being sold cheap. One purported seller claimed he was a professor in Beijing helping the World Health Organization with the coronavirus epidemic and needed to sell his car quickly for living expenses, Vang said.

When a customer tries to buys the car, the company e-mails an invoice and payment instructions that generally involve bank routing information or wire transfer instructions. Once the buyer wires the money, the scammer cuts off communication and the consumer walks away empty-handed, Vang said.

Vang said buying cars online can be a risky proposition because it’s hard to verify if the car actually exists. In this scheme, cars are listed in different parts of the country so that a buyer cannot physically see them. Cars priced very low should raise red flags, Vang said.

When buying a car online, customers should make sure the dealer is licensed to sell cars or other motor vehicles. In Minnesota, auto dealers are licensed through the Department of Motor Vehicles; in North Dakota, through the state Department of Transportation. She also suggested looking up the business on the BBB Scam Tracker or on www.BBB.org to view its rating, read customer reviews, and check whether the profile has been flagged.

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