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BBB warning: Fake auto dealer websites in Fargo and Minot are defrauding people out of thousands of dollars

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota urges consumers shopping for a vehicle online to be cautious of bogus auto dealer websites, including an entity claiming to be located in Fargo that has defrauded consumers of thousands of dollars over the past month.

BBB first became aware of "Superior Auto Sales" and its website (www.used-sas.com) in mid-January, when concerned consumers submitted BBB Customer Reviews and Scam Tracker reports about recent interactions with Superior.

Some described "close calls" with the fraudulent entity; others reported having already wired away $800 to $1,000 in "deposit" money for vehicles they never received.

The scam typically starts with a car, trailer, boat, or other vehicle listing on Craigslist. Would-be victims communicate with Superior by email or text and referred to a convincing website for additional vehicle details. They are emailed an official-looking "invoice" for 20 percent of the vehicle's cost as a deposit, including bank routing information and wire transfer instructions. Once the money has been wired, Superior cuts off all communication and the consumer receives nothing.

This fraudulent site may be particularly convincing to consumers because the scammers behind it chose to use the name of a legitimate, licensed auto dealer formerly located at the same address in Fargo. This may lead consumers attempting to research Superior Auto Sales online to old Google, Yelp, and other listings for the former business.

BBB has contacted the web registrar behind www.used-sas.com, informing them the site has been defrauding consumers and asking that they suspend it. As of Feb. 25, the website is still active, and Superior is likely still creating associated Craigslist listings around the country.

BBB has also identified a companion site, www.seized-pab.com, which features the same fraudulent listings, this time under the pretense of being a business called "Preferred Auto Brokers" in Minot, N.D. As with Superior Auto Sales in Fargo, there is currently no such business located in Minot.

BBB offers these tips to help consumers identify fraudulent auto dealer sites:

Watch for 'red flags' like improbably low prices on vehicles, or an insistence that you communicate with the "dealer" only by text/e-mail/chat, and not by phone.

Make sure the dealer is licensed to sell cars and/or other motor vehicles. In Minnesota, auto dealers are licensed through the Department of Motor Vehicles; in North Dakota, through the Department of Transportation.

BBB strongly urges consumers not to wire money for an online vehicle purchase if you can't view and inspect the vehicle in person first or have a reputable third-party inspector do so for you.

BBB encourages consumers who have lost money in this kind of scam to alert their bank immediately, file a complaint through BBB, and flag related Craigslist posts as fraudulent, where relevant.