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BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU: A warning about online vehicle sellers, shippers

Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) warns consumers shopping for a vehicle online to be aware of too-good-to-be-true prices.

Since this summer, consumers have reported more than 20 fraudulent vehicle shipping companies between the two states.

BBB has been on alert for this type of activity after an online entity, calling itself Yellow Shippers, was reported as part of a nationwide online scam earlier this year. After months of investigating, BBB has learned of fraudulent online entities with addresses listed in Minneapolis, St. Cloud, Rochester, Duluth, Staples, Fargo, Bismarck and Grand Forks.

In most cases, the scam starts with a consumer finding a cheap vehicle on Craigslist, Autotrader or other local publications. The types of vehicles consumers have tried to purchase are cars, trucks, jet-skis, boats, semi-trucks and farm equipment. The seller usually shares a sad story about why they need to sell the vehicle as fast as possible.

"The seller, who typically utilizes a woman's name, shares a sad, personal story via email about why she wants to sell the vehicle as soon as possible, to lure the buyer in," said Susan Adams Loyd, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB). "They actually set up fake escrow companies, under the guise of a trusted third party, to take the consumer's money and ultimately defraud them."

BBB has found in some cases the names of these shipping companies are similar to legitimate businesses and have similar looking websites. However, none of them have valid mailing addresses, if one is even listed. Some of the fraudulent company names include Minneapolis Express Deliveries, Westco Logistics, Rochester Cargo Center and Caldwell Green Transportation. Consumers who move forward with a wire transfer to purchase the vehicle tell BBB they did not receive the vehicle and they were not able to reach the escrow company for a refund.

BBB offers these tips on potential online vehicle scams:

• Insist on meeting a seller and inspecting the vehicle before releasing any money.

• Research transportation companies to be sure they are legitimate before sending or wiring money. Scammers avoid traceable payment methods.

• Carefully check the company's website domain registration on a website such as Whois.com.

• Check for errors on the company's website.

• Read business profiles at bbb.org, and search online for complaints or reviews of the shipper you are considering.

• Make sure the company has a U.S. Department of Transportation for a motor carrier number, which is required by law.

BBB encourages consumers who have lost money in this kind of scam to file a complaint with BBB, to contact their bank and to report it to local law enforcement. Consumers who have not lost money may submit a report through BBB Scam Tracker.