Better Business Bureau® of Minnesota and North Dakota has identified at least seven fake auto dealer and shipper websites in Minnesota that consumers say are scamming them out of thousands of dollars.

With the help of consumer reports, BBB has placed warnings on their BBB business profiles. The “businesses” include: Fergus TransportationNebula FreightMN Express LogisticsHashi Freight LLCZiegler/Zeigler FreightWDS Transport, and USTopCars.com.

The ruse begins with a car, RV, or other vehicle listed for an improbably low price on a website like Craigslist or Oodle. Often the ad is posted across the country from where the vehicle is allegedly located, meaning buyers can’t look at the vehicle in person to verify it’s real.

The scammer emails an invoice to the buyer and includes payment instructions that generally involve bank routing information or wire transfer instructions. Once the buyer wires the money, the scammer cuts off communication and the consumer walks away empty-handed.

These scams are historically paired with a tall tale about why the seller wants to sell the car for an improbable price, and recently, BBB has seen these stories take a COVID-19 twist. One scammer told the car buyer he was a professor in Beijing helping the World Health Organization with the coronavirus epidemic and needed to sell his car quickly for living expenses.

BBB is aware of at least one consumer who was scammed out of more than $34,000 by Nebula Freight; another consumer lost more than $10,000 to Fergus Transportation. Hundreds of others have contacted BBB asking if these businesses are legitimate after sensing something amiss.

Before making a purchase, search the business on BBB Scam Tracker or on www.BBB.org to view its rating, read customer reviews, and check whether the profile has been flagged as risky by BBB.

Following these tips will also help you stay on the right track:

  • Do everything in your power to avoid wiring money for an online vehicle purchase, especially if you can’t view and inspect the vehicle in person first.
  • Watch for red flags like improbably low prices on vehicles.
  • Make sure the dealer is licensed to sell cars and/or other motor vehicles. In Minnesota, auto dealers are licensed through the Department of Motor Vehicles; in North Dakota, through the Department of Transportation.
  • Look up the dealer on www.BBB.org to make sure their profile hasn’t been flagged with concerns and to read customer reviews.
  • Look up the business on Google maps to view their location. Some scammers use addresses of existing businesses to appear legitimate.