An example of a bogus website mirroring an Iowa dealership.

The consumer protection division of the Iowa Attorney General’s office reports an upturn in the number of complaints about fake car dealerships appearing online.

Ashley Kieler, a spokeswoman for the AG’s office, says crooks are building sophisticated websites that mirror legitimate dealerships and they’re luring in customers with great deals — on vehicles they don’t own.

“They will create a website for car dealerships that actually exist somewhere and then use their own phone number and email addresses and start advertising vehicles,” Kieler says. “So when a consumer shows interest in this vehicle, they’re asked to wire a significant amount of money to this fictitious company, and then they are left without a car and without money.”

Supply chain issues stemming from the economic slowdown of the pandemic are making it difficult to find new or used cars, forcing potential buyers to search outside their local areas.

“The vehicle market is tough right now. There’s not a lot of inventory on lots and used vehicles are also difficult to find because people aren’t purchasing new because they’re not available,” Kieler says. “So people are looking online if they have a certain vehicle in mind, and they believe that these are legitimate dealerships because they look like it or they have a name that sounds familiar.”

One recent complaint came from a Texas man who lost $38,000 dollars while trying to buy a Porsche from what appeared to be a legitimate dealership in Waterloo — that ended up being a carefully crafted scam.

“We’d suggest that you do your own research first,” she says. “Go to your web browser, search for the dealership that you believe you’re working with, see what other social media pages they have, other websites they have, or just the directory and then call those numbers and talk to somebody and make sure that this is the right dealership.”

Before purchasing a vehicle, the AG’s office recommends you always see the vehicle in person. You can also check the Iowa DOT’s list of registered auto dealers here.

That table is updated monthly and will tell you the legal name of the dealer, the dealer number, and the address. Check that information against the information given to you by the online dealer.

If you think you’re dealing with a scammer, report it to the Iowa Attorney General’s office at 888-777-4590.

Radio Iowa