Online fraudsters used headshots of a Hollywood actor and a Financial Times reporter to build a car retail website to scam car buyers out of thousands of pounds.
An investigation conducted by the BBC revealed that the website used the images under the ‘staff members’ page of a platform which stole its Auto-Promotions name from a legitimate business and advertised dozens of bargain cars for sale.
The website operated between March this year and September, when the broadcaster’s investigation resulted in its closure by police. However, the BBC said that the people behind the scam remain “at large”.
Pietro Pagliuca, from West Yorkshire, was one of eight victims of the scam spoken to by BBC researchers.
The BBC said he had transferred almost £4,000 to Auto-Promotions for a second-hand Nissan Qashqai following a phone conversation with one of the scammers, who claimed to be the sales director, but the car never arrived
Pagliuca reported the online transaction to his bank, and later received half of the money back.
Action Fraud suggests there were over 3,000 reports of online vehicle fraud in 2021 – a rise of 21% on 2019 – costing consumers almost £9.5m last year.
However, the BBC believes that instances could be on the rise as a shift to online car retail ushered in during the COVID-19 pandemic and high used car values meets a growing number of cash-strapped customers keen to buy a bargain.
AM reported last June on that car buyers were being have been warned to be on their guard after Trading Standards tracked a bogus online retailer demanding full payment to secure next day delivery of vehicles which never arrived.
Consumers in and around Hereford were caught out by the scam after handing the bogus company, CAR MARKET (HEREFORD) LTD, the full asking price of vehicles advertised via eBay, Gumtree and Motors.co.uk, Hereford Trading Standards said.
The authority said that many of the cars advertised were valued at around half of their usual retail price as a ploy to entice unwitting customers.
Speaking about the threat posed to consumers by such scams at the time, Herefordshire Council’s Trading Standards manager David Hough said: “This is an elaborate, but not uncommon scam and could net the fraudsters a fortune if not stopped.
“Our officers are investigating the matter and working with the online platforms to take down as many of these bogus adverts as possible.
“We would urge car buyers to be very careful how they purchase vehicles online.”