McGraw

CHARLESTON -- West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw is warning residents to be on the lookout for what he is calling "virtual automotive hijackers."

The hijackers, McGraw says, are using false claims of vehicle protection programs to lure online shoppers.

And often the scam artists try to sell vehicles they don't own.

They advertise vehicles at very low prices to lure shoppers in. Then they provide a compelling story explaining the low price and the extremely urgent need to get the deal done, the Attorney General's Office explained.

McGraw's office says the stories range from a sick child in the hospital, to the seller leaving the country to serve in the military.

To make the transaction appear legitimate, the seller also tells the shopper to send full or partial payment to a third-party agent via a wire transfer payment service.

Another tactic these scam artists are using, McGraw's office says, is to associate themselves with reputable companies and programs, like eBay Motors' vehicle protection program.

The vehicle protection program is a legitimate program run by eBay, but is not applicable to transactions outside of eBay Motors and never allows wire transfers of payment.

The end result: the sellers pocket the money and never deliver the vehicle, McGraw says.

And in a new twist to the scheme, the sellers are using a live chat feature to further deceive shoppers.

As live chat assistants, they answer shoppers' questions and assure them that the deals are safe. They also falsely assert that their sales are protected by liability insurance coverage for up to $50,000, the Attorney General's Office said.

McGraw says car shoppers should be on "high alert" for such schemes.

West Virginia isn't the only state being targeted. Earlier this month, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin alerted residents to the same scam.

McGraw says online shoppers should be particularly cautious of the following scenarios:

- Sellers who want to move the transaction from one platform to another (for example, from Craigslist to eBay Motors);

- Sellers who claim that a buyer protection program offered by a major Internet company covers an auto transaction conducted outside the company's site;

- Sellers who push for speedy completion of the transaction and request payments via quick wire transfer payment systems;

- Sellers who refuse to meet in person, or refuse to allow the buyer to physically inspect the vehicle before the purchase;

- Transactions in which the seller and vehicle are in different locations. Criminals often claim to have been transferred for work reasons, deployed by the military, or moved because of a family circumstance, and could not take the vehicle with them; and

- Vehicles advertised at well below their market value.

Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is, McGraw says.

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