State of Minnesota
More about
Attorney General
Lori Swanson

Minnesota Attorney General's Office

1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101

(651) 296-3353
(800) 657-3787

M - F 8 am - 5 pm

TTY:(651) 297-7206
TTY:(800) 366-4812

Online Car Sales

Many individuals use the internet for a variety of transactions. Although it may be an effective tool in locating potential buyers and sellers, the internet can also be a haven for fraudulent actors looking to make easy money at the expense of others. A current car scam illustrates the point.

How the Scam Works

The scam artist may claim that he/she is buying a vehicle on behalf of a client. Once a price is agreed on, the scam artist sends a personal or cashierís check to the seller in excess of the purchase amount, requesting that the seller make payment directly to the supposed buyer, in the same amount as the excess payment. The fraudulent operator promises that once payment is received, a representative will pick up the vehicle. Since sellers are often in a hurry to finalize the vehicleís sale, the seller will typically cash the check and make the payment to the scam artist before discovering that the check was fraudulent. Victims of such fraud can be bilked out of thousands of dollars. Furthermore, it can be difficult for law enforcement agencies to track down such perpetrators, leaving victims with little recourse or hope of recovering their money. Prevention is the best protection against such scams.

Tips to Avoid Internet Scams

  • If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.
  • Donít be tricked into sending payments to fraudulent actors. If an individual is actually owed a commission, their client should be the party making the payment.
  • Donít be rushed. People often make poor decisions when they are hurried. If someone really wants to do business with you, they will wait until you are ready to make a legitimate transaction. Furthermore, if an individual wishes to make changes to the terms of the transaction, such as where the payment is sent, do not let your eagerness to complete the transaction blind you to potential problems.
  • Know where you are sending money. If you send payments to foreign countries, law enforcement agencies may lack jurisdiction to pursue criminals there.
  • Be on guard against offers that include checks or other payment instruments from overseas.
  • Beware payments made by cashierís check. Even though banks may make money readily available to a customer upon cashing a cashierís check, the check may not be authentic. Checks generally must be sent to the issuing bank before payment is authenticated, a process which frequently takes several days.
  • Contact the bank or financial institution that the check is drawn from to determine whether the payment is legitimate. Do not, however, use the contact information that appears on the check, which may be forged to misdirect potential fraud victims. Instead, obtain such contact information independently, through legitimate directories or other sources.
  • Use a secure escrow payment service of your choosing. Many on line auction companies offer such a service for a low fee. Question demands that you use an escrow payment service you are unfamiliar with, or other unusual payment requests.

Concerns About Counterfeit Check Payments or Other Internet Scams?

Contact the following agencies:

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Minneapolis Office

111 Washington Avenue South, Suite 1100
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20580
Toll free: 1-877-382-4357

United States Secret Service
MN Electronic Crimes Task Force

300 S. 4th St., Suite 750
Minneapolis, MN 55415

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
FDIC Special Activities Section
550 17th Street NW
Washington, DC 20429

Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 296-3353
TTY: (651) 297-7206
TTY: 1-800-366-4812

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