Alert issued on vehicle scam using online classified ads

Prosecutors said Friday that at least 50 people have been victimized in the past few weeks by the same online scam.

The scam purports to sell a used car online for a cheap price. It asks for people to make cash payments in advance.

Officials recommended that persons buying cars online be extra cautious and that they not make cash payments in advance to cover the shipping cost, according to a press release from the Ministerio Público.

Investigators would not specify the Web sites where the scammers posted.

Prosecutors from the Fiscalía de Fraudes said that the scam starts on a classified advertisement Web site, where scammers post a picture of a car, a price lower than the market value, a fake foreign phone number and an email. These are probably Web sites where the ads are free and posted automatically so that the scammer has no contact with a real person.

Since the phone number does not work, victims have contacted the scammer through email.

The report explained that the supposed owner of the car took an international road trip but cannot register the car in the country where he or she has arrived. The lower price is supposed to compensate for shipping costs and taxes.

In order to cover those shipping costs the crook asks for an advance payment and names a fake shipping company that the crook says he or she will contact, prosecutors said. The scammer then has the victim transfer the money abroad through Western Union or MoneyGram.

Officials said that the scammer also asks the victim to scan the money transfer receipt and send it by email to the scammer to make collecting the money easier.

Prosecutors gave three recommendations to persons that shop for cars online. They said that shoppers should be cautious in general of cheap deals that seem too good to be true, get advice from experts that have experience in the car market and not pay cash in advance.

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