The Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC), the regulator of motor vehicle sales in Ontario, is warning car buyers of yet another online scam targeting Canadians.
According to Carey Smith, OMVIC director of investigations, Husen Original Autos advertises on online vehicle marketplaces such as AutoTrader.ca, Wheels.ca, E-bay.ca, Craigslist.ca and Kijiji.ca, offering high-end late model vehicles at prices that are often "too good to be true." Smith explains this phony dealer's website claims to be based in Phoenix, AZ; however the business does not actually exist. "According to Arizona authorities, Husen is not licensed and they have no physical presence. Their advertised address is actually a retired fire hall, now used as a community service building." Husen Original Autos appears to be the latest incarnation of Ambient Auto Center and Sprint Luxury Auto. Both were phony dealerships supposedly based in Oklahoma. According to Smith, "Husen's website looks nearly identical to Ambient's and Sprint's and their methods of operation appear to be the same."
Terry O'Keefe, OMVIC Manager of Communications, says these frauds specifically target Canadians and are very sophisticated. "The websites are very professional and contain extensive inventory and convincing customer testimonials; they've even created recommendations on referral websites and forums. We know of five victims of the Ambient scam so far: those victims lost nearly $200,000. We expect there are many more victims yet to come forward." Unfortunately, because of the multi-jurisdictional and international nature of these scams, investigations and prosecutions are difficult and expensive. "The scammers know this – it's why they are targeting Canadians," states O'Keefe.
OMVIC strongly cautions Ontarians considering buying vehicles remotely, whether privately or from a dealer in another state or province, and offers the following tips:
•Don't do it – consider that the savings are probably not worth the gamble, especially in light of the rapid proliferation of these scams.
•Beware of a price that is considerably lower than the average market price. If a price seems too good to be true, it should be seen as a warning, not an opportunity.
•Travel to see the vehicle – don't rely on pictures or a convincing website. If a buyer can't travel to see the vehicle, hire an appraiser or mechanic to inspect the vehicle. They can ensure the vehicle actually exists and the seller is who they claim to be.
•Check with state or provincial regulators/authorities to ensure dealers are licensed.
•Purchase a vehicle history report for the vehicle – don't simply rely on a report provided by the seller: they can be altered.
•Don't wire money or provide a credit card without first doing all homework.
O'Keefe wants Ontarians to know "they are only protected by Ontario's consumer protection laws and only have access to the Motor Vehicle Dealers Compensation Fund when they buy from an Ontario-registered dealer. If consumers buy privately or outside the province, and something goes wrong, they are basically on their own. It's simply not worth the risk."