Scam artists steal car sellers' identities to steal from car buyers

Worried about having your personal identity stolen? Well, here's the scoop on thieves who have figured out how to steal the identity of a business.

Scam artists are posing as legitimate auto sales outlets on phony Web sites to dupe car shoppers into sending them money, the Council of Better Business Bureaus warns.

The sites look legitimate and offer deals on repossessed vehicles at prices well below market value, council spokeswoman Alison Southwick says. The sites use the name, address and contact information of the real dealership. According to the council, buyers are instructed to wire a deposit to an individual rather than to a company because it helps the company cut its tax bill.

You'd think that would tip off most people that something is wrong with the deal, but apparently not -- deposits of up to $5,000 were sent to the thieves, Southwick says.

America Auto Sales, a used-car store in Memphis, Tenn., received more than 1,000 phone calls from consumers across the country who shopped for a vehicle on a bogus site, Southwick says. The callers were led to believe the Web site was run by the Memphis store.

After paying deposits, some victims called real dealerships to arrange the delivery of their nonexistent vehicles, and some showed up in person to pick them up.

So far, the council is aware of about a dozen used-car dealerships in half-dozen states that have had their names ripped off for bogus purposes, Southwick says.

She adds: “But of course that doesn't mean it hasn't -- or couldn't -- happen to a new car dealer.”