Residents warned of online car-sale scam

Residents should be cautious when they buy on line following an investigation into a complicated car sales e-scam warns Northumberland County Council’s public protection service.

The council’s trading standards service was contacted by a consumer from Wales who had seen an Audi advertised online, supposedly from an address in Berwick.

The company claimed that they had been employed to sell the car on behalf of the owner, who was abroad. The company gave a Manchester address as its head office and also claimed to have offices in St Austell, London and an address in Berwick upon Tweed where the vehicle was supposedly in storage. She was tempted to buy the car and wanted to know if the company was a legitimate company. The seller wasn’t known to trading standards, so enquiries were made.

Further investigation revealed that the car had been advertised for sale by the real owner on an internet market place; the photograph in that advert had been copied and used to set up a fake advert at an address in Berwick that did not exist. This advert had appeared on a well-known vehicle sales site and had been seen by the Welsh consumer.

The supposed sellers required either full or part payment up front before the car could be viewed. All correspondence with the fraudulent business was carried out by email; telephone numbers were given but no calls to them were answered.

Coun Dave Ledger, Deputy Leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “This is quite a sophisticated scam that relies entirely on the fraudster’s ability to hide on the internet.

Everything about the sale of this car was fake; they had no car to sell, the address was made up, there’s no evidence that the criminals are even in the UK. Many of us use the internet to buy online, but people need to be cautious; parts of it are still like the wild-west.”

Philip Soderquest, acting head of public protection said: “If you have any suspicions about anything advertised don’t buy it until you have checked it out. You should look for addresses and phone numbers and you can often check these out through online search engines. Always pay with a credit card if possible, as this gives you extra protection under the Consumer Credit Act. If you are buying a car from somewhere else in the country, we would advise against giving a large deposit in advance and make sure that the seller agrees to return the deposit if the sale doesn’t go through.”

Many consumers will be aware that when purchasing goods online they do have rights under the Distance Selling Regulations; scammers don’t abide by these rules. However, if you purchase goods costing over £100 and less than £30,000 using your credit card, then if things do go wrong consumers can make a claim against their finance company for any breach of contract or misrepresentation.

To find out more about your rights or if at any time you have doubts about the method or any other aspect of the sale you are advised not make any payments and contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Advice Service on 08454 04 05 06