The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (TDCI) and the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission are warning consumers to avoid purchasing vehicles advertised through a phony website created and operated by scammers posing as the proprietors of a legitimate Lawrenceburg auto dealer.
Fully licensed and in operation since 1991, Fields Auto Sales operates its dealership at 1408 N. Locust St. in Lawrenceburg but does not operate a website. Unfortunately, scammers created a bogus website with a fake phone number purporting to be Fields Auto Sales in order to dupe unsuspecting potential consumers. Additionally, scammers advertised the nonexistent vehicles through an online auto sales website using Fields Auto Sales' name. Victims believed they were buying actual cars online and gave their money to the scammers through electronic fund transfers.
The owners of Field's Auto Sales were made aware of the scam when they were contacted by three victims, all of whom live outside Tennessee and believed they were buying vehicles via the Internet. (One consumer who lives in Las Vegas only learned about the scam after flying to Nashville to pick up a vehicle only to learn there was no car.) The victims have all contacted law enforcement authorities about the scam.
Fraudulent online vehicle sales are costly for consumers. From May 2014 through December 2017, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received approximately 26,967 complaints with adjusted losses of $54,032,396 related to these types of fraudulent sales.
The FBI recommends consumers interested in purchasing items online ensure they are purchasing from a reputable source by verifying the legitimacy of the seller and their actual possession of the merchandise. When purchasing a vehicle online, remember these consumer tips:
- When it comes to making any purchases, be cautious of items being advertised well below their market value. Remember, if the deal appears too good to be true, it probably is.
- Use the Internet to research the advertised item and the seller's name, email addresses, telephone numbers, and other unique identifiers.
- Use the Internet to research the company's contact information and its shipping and payment policies before completing a transaction. Ensure the legitimacy of the contact information and that the company accepts the requested payment option.
- Avoid sellers who refuse to meet in person or who refuse to allow the buyer to physically inspect the vehicle before the purchase. For high-priced purchases, insist on speaking to the seller over the phone to establish his or her legitimacy.
- Ask for the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), license plate (if possible), and the name of the individual to whom the car is currently registered.
- If you are suspicious or unsure about an email that claims to be from a legitimate business, locate the business online and contact it directly. Criminals take extra effort to disguise themselves and may include familiar or recognizable words in their email address or domain name.
- Auto dealers should report to law enforcement any bills or notices from online advertising companies for services they did not buy and should immediately check to see if vehicles are being advertised in their company's name online.
Individuals who believe they may be a victim of, or have knowledge of, an online scam (regardless of dollar amount) can file a complaint here.