Warning: the auction fake has returned! More than 10 years after its first campaign, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) says counterfeit auction sites are once again popping up to rip off consumers who shop for big ticket items like vehicles and boats.
The reports filed with the BBB’s Scam Tracker suggest that the scammers aren’t just walking away with consumers' money; they're also stealing personal information that can be exploited in other ways.
How the auction scam works
The first bread crumb the fraudster lays down in an auction scam is an ad for a website auctioning cars, motorhomes, boats, and other big-ticket items. It looks interesting, so consumers click to find out more. Everything on the site may seem above board, possibly going as far as claiming to be affiliated with the government.
Believing that all is legit, a curious consumer might register on the site to be able to place a bid on something that strikes their fancy. Unfortunately, the data they share could be their driver's license or other sensitive personal information, and that’s where things start to snowball. That’s Mistake #1.
After the consumer registers for the site, they look around and see something they’d like to place a bid on. Hours or days later, they get a “Congratulations! You’ve won!” email. That’s where Mistake #2 enters the picture.
The auctioneer gives the bidder instructions on how to transfer the money, but once the winning bidder has paid, the auctioneer disappears and is impossible to get a hold of.
One consumer told the BBB that they tried to put in a bid on a 2019 Nissan Titan pickup truck and was surprised that they won. However, they were skeptical when it came to the next steps in the process.
“The next day, they sent an invoice so I could bank transfer the funds. What they sent looked like a person in [Georgia] and not a business in Oklahoma, so I called… I kept asking questions, and he at last said that they were going to cancel the sale and I said fine,” the consumer reported.
How to avoid auction scams
The BBB suggests that consumers take the time to research and collect their senses before jumping into any online auction. If an auction claims to be a “government” auction, consumers should reach out to the branch of government hosting the event to make sure it’s legitimate.
“If you’re looking at an auction run by a private company, also do some research ahead of time,” a BBB representative told ConsumerAffairs.
“Get to know the terms and conditions of the auction. Find out whether there are entry fees, winning bidder fees, taxes, or shipping costs you’ll be responsible for paying,” the BBB advises. “Winning an auction may not be as simple as paying the price you offered. Plus, scammers may try to hustle you out of ‘entry fees’ or ‘pre-bid deposits’ without even having any real items in their auction.”
Another look-before-you-leap tip is to collect your wits and don’t make impulse buys. “Scammers will be counting on you to get wrapped up in the excitement and could even prod you into a fake bidding war to get more money out of you,” the BBB says.
Personal information is a goldmine to a scammer, so guard it like gold. Once someone gives out their private information to a fraudster, the likelihood of getting it back and stopping it from being repurposed is very slim.