“This is a goodie; this one is new to us,” says Evan Kelly of a scheme that has started making the rounds in Canada. In it, individuals who are (legitimately) trying to sell a used car online are approached by seemingly interested buyers by email or text. The buyer asks for a vehicle history report from someone other than a reputable organization such as CarProof or ICBC.
“It’s concerning,” says Kelly, the senior communications advisor for the Better Business Bureau serving Mainland BC. “I’d stop short of calling it an out-and-out scam; it’s more deceptive and misleading.”
Places such as CarProof and ICBC offer information a buyer needs to know before purchasing a used car, such as whether the vehicle has been in an accident, whether it has been registered, or if there are any liens against it. They conduct the searches using the vehicle’s Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN. Neither private sellers nor car dealers are obligated to produce these reports.
The “buyer” asks for information about the vehicle, but claims not to be satisfied with the report from a legitimate site. They will ask the seller to purchase the report from another firm that claims to offer the service, for a nominal fee (around $35). Kelly says that a firm called ProofVIN (whose website is now unavailable) is often the one that sellers are asked to obtain the report from.
“A report does come up, but it’s from a service that’s not regulated by any organization or body. ICBC thinks they’re pulling information about the vehicles from other sites, so they very well could be providing a legitimate service.
“But the deceptive point is that the ‘buyer’ directs you to the site—sometimes saying they will reimburse the fee—but has no intention of buying the vehicle. Once you buy the report from the website, the ‘buyer’ is no longer interested in the car, and the seller is out the cost of the report.” Kelly suspects that the “buyer” receives a commission for every report he can persuade sellers to purchase.
He adds that the ProofVIN site shows “a lot of red flags. It’s sketchy.” The red flags include poor grammar and no phone number on the site, plus the fact that the IP address of the site is based in the Netherlands. “The employee pictures on the Home page show up with different names and titles on the About Us page, and the names and pictures have been pulled from other, legitimate, websites.”
Although relatively new, Kelly says the scheme appears to be widespread. “Here’s the bottom line. By law, you don’t have to show your vehicle’s history report. If a buyer is not satisfied with a CarProof or ICBC report and pressures you to buy one from another site, it becomes suspicious. You might just be better off finding another legitimate buyer.”