That awful mess for dealers on the Internet

Auto dealers can find themselves waist-deep in trouble on the Internet.

The great cultural migration to Web commerce, to social media sites and to public listing services like for car and truck sales is unstoppable. And dealers who are resisting the shift will surely be left behind.

But what a cesspool to wade through.

Scammers now haunt Craigslist. Ads showing random vehicles priced too low to resist want funds wired to untraceable accounts. Craigslist itself warns users that there are scams galore and the site can apparently do nothing about it.

A New Jersey man was arrested this week for trying to sell a vehicle online that he had borrowed from a local dealership lot. Minnesota authorities this month arrested a man who allegedly murdered a Craigslist advertiser in an effort to steal parts off of his advertised Nissan 350Z.

OK, so it's a wicked world out there. What else is new?

The problem is bad PR by association. Auto dealers have struggled for years to improve the public's perception of what they do and how they do it. And now dealers are entering into a Wild West of careless consumer behavior and reputation-ruining bad guys. Dealers will need to make sure they can be seen and heard above the fray, clearly messaging: “I am legitimate. You can trust my ad. You can trust me.”

That's a new test for dealers who have spent lifetimes and multiple generations building their names and reputations. And steering clear of the unpleasantness -- while reaping the potential rewards -- is going to be one of the biggest marketing challenges of this decade.