Trading Standards lifts the lid on online car scam

Posted on: 17 March 2016

Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service is warning car buyers to be cautious when buying vehicles online.

It follows an investigation by the service into online car sales. Several consumers contacted Trading Standards when they didn’t receive the vehicles they had paid for.

The vehicles had been advertised online, supposedly by a company with an address in Somerset.

The ‘trader’ claimed to be based in Burnham-on-Sea, and had all the hallmarks of a legitimate dealer, including an address and telephone number listed on their website.

The trader also appeared to be a limited company with two directors listed, both living in Somerset. The vehicles were said to be in various parts of the country. They were attractively priced, and the trader would deliver them to the consumers.

In reality the cars described either didn’t exist or had been previously sold by legitimate traders. The investigation revealed that the scam company was a front for what appears to be an organised criminal gang.

Purchasers paid for vehicles by bank transfer. The vehicles did not arrive. All attempts to contact the trader by letter or telephone failed. All contact was by e-mail and complaints garnered no response.

Devon and Somerset Trading Standards successfully traced where customer’s payments were going to reveal who opened the accounts and where. Evidence was obtained that criminals had set up a number of bank accounts in the centre of London to receive the funds from their victims.

The evidence was then passed to The Metropolitan Police and Action Fraud Network. Further investigation revealed that scams of this type are widespread and significant numbers of buyers throughout the country are being defrauded in this way.

In almost all cases, the buyers are led to believe they are dealing with an established ‘local’ trader.

Councillor David Hall, the Deputy Leader of Somerset County Council, said:

Cllr David Hall“Scams of this kind are becoming increasingly common and increasingly sophisticated.

“I would urge potential car buyers to be careful when buying vehicles online. Many websites and adverts look very professional and it can be difficult to tell these apart from the genuine article.

“Often in these types of scam the fraudsters will claim to be local and consumers should try to see the car for themselves before purchase.

“By following a few simple rules including using a credit card which will give you better protection against shopping fraud, and using a trader who has signed up to a local member of the Buy With Confidence scheme, consumers can better protect themselves.”

Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Trading Standards said:

Cllr Roger Croad“By using legislation including the Consumer Rights Act and the Proceeds of Crime Act our officers have been able to follow the money and have lifted the lid on the activities of a criminal gang. The evidence gathered has been sent onto the Metropolitan Police.”

There are a few simple ways consumers can protect themselves:

• If you find a car you would like to buy – try to go and see the car in person before paying a deposit or agreeing to purchase it.
• Always meet at the seller’s home or business premises – otherwise it could be difficult to find them again if things go wrong later.
• Pay safely – using a credit card will give you better protection against shopping fraud.
• Print out the advert – the description, photos and other information will give you evidence if things go wrong later.
• Consider using a local member of the Buy With Confidence Scheme which has been vetted and approved by Trading Standards.

If you think you are the victim of car fraud, contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or visit their website.

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