In addition to faking Edmunds' site, scammers also have created websites that purport to be other escrow services or vehicle shipping companies. The goal is always the same, however: separating you from your money.
Here's how the scam works: A car shopper spots a too-good-to-be-true ad on a site where private parties buy and sell cars, including such places as Craigslist or Carsforsale.com. The ad may have links to photos of a real vehicle, and there might even be a legitimate vehicle history report. That's because the scammer has likely cloned an actual car ad. The seller (who typically only wants to communicate via email) has an explanation for why the price is so low. The seller also will offer a reason why the buyer can't see or test-drive the car before going forward with the purchase. Typically, the scammer says that he's moved overseas for a job or military deployment, but assures the shopper that the vehicle is stored and ready to be shipped once the money has been sent.
If a buyer agrees to purchase a vehicle, the fraudulent seller gives the buyer a link and instructs that money be wired to the account of the escrow agent (Edmunds, in the current scam). The promise is that the escrow company will hold the cash until the vehicle is delivered. Once the buyer wires the payment, the scammer ceases contact. And the car is never delivered, of course. The FBI has more information about this online car-shopping fraud, which has brought in more than 29,000 complaints and cost consumers more than $54 million since 2014.
Edmunds alone has received more than 1,200 complaints from consumers since June 2016 about this type of scam. In that time, Edmunds has been able to shut down more than 16 fake Edmunds sites and is working closely with the FBI to both recoup money and combat the scams.
One Shopper's Close Call
One shopper, Frank Piaia, came very close to losing more than $34,000 to the scam. He'd spotted a truck on a shopping site and wired the money via a link, supplied by the seller, to a fake Edmunds site. A few hours after the transaction, a friend told Piaia that the deal sounded fraudulent.
For the first time, Piaia typed "Edmunds.com" into his computer rather than using the link. The site looked very different from the one he'd used. Piaia emailed the real Edmunds.
"Could you reassure me that I haven't been the victim of internet fraud?" he wrote.
An Edmunds custom-care representative told Piaia that, unfortunately, it was a fraud. She urged Piaia to contact his bank immediately.
"Thanks to her, I managed to block the transaction and get the money back," Piaia said in an interview with Edmunds. "I'll never commit such a stupidity again."