Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) was alerted recently to a case of business identity theft targeting Import Auto Sales, LLC, a used car dealership located in St. Louis Park. A fraudulent website with a similar business name and using the company’s physical address attempted to solicit deposits via prepaid debit cards by deceiving consumers nationwide into thinking they were transacting with Import Auto Sales. BBB has been able to help get the bogus website taken down by working with the Web registrar unknowingly hosting the site.
“Business identity theft is an issue which can strike any company, making victims of honest business owners and unsuspecting consumers,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “It highlights the importance of both vigilance and due diligence.”
The fraudulent website (import-auto-store.com) first came to the attention of the local BBB through a report from BBB in Columbia, South Carolina. That BBB was monitoring another fraudulent website, when they noted a similarly suspect website – presumably operated by the same scammers – had been created using information appropriated from Import Auto Sales, LLC, in the Twin Cities.
BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota immediately launched an investigation, reaching out to Import Auto Sales, LLC, and quickly inserting custom text in BBB’s Business Review for the company, thereby alerting consumers to potential issues with the fraudulent website. At the same time, BBB also contacted the company hosting the site and shared our concerns with them.
While the fake website was operational, BBB noted a spike in inquiries for Import Auto Sales, LLC, likely due to individuals trying to research import-auto-store.com. BBB received a phone call from a consumer who was considering purchasing two jet skis from the bogus entity. However, a request to send $1,000 via OneVanilla prepaid Visa cards made the customer suspicious. After speaking with BBB, the customer indicated they would be walking away from the transaction. The owner of Import Auto Sales, LLC, also reported that a couple from Wisconsin drove to their lot thinking they were dealing with the legitimate business, when in fact they were in contact with the fraudulent online entity.
BBB advises businesses to keep an ear to the ground and to pay close attention to any unusual inquiries they receive.
“If you get a phone call about an advertised job offer and you’re not hiring or a transaction you know nothing about, there’s a good chance your company’s name is being used for fraudulent purposes,” added Badgerow.
For consumers, signs they might be dealing with a bogus entity that’s appropriated the name of a legitimate business include:
• Requests or demands to pay for or hold merchandise via wire transfer or a prepaid Visa card.
• Merchandise for sale at greatly reduced prices or prices that are simply too good to be true.
• Situations where a seller or online entity insists that you communicate with them solely through email or their website. Legitimate businesses will be happy to work with you online, over the phone or in person.
• If an Internet search on a company turns up another company with a similar name, but some information – such as phone numbers or an address – overlaps, it’s possible something questionable is going on. You’ll want to proceed with caution.
BBB encourages business owners and customers to contact them at 800-646-6222 for pre-purchase information or to report suspected cases of business identity theft.
The mission of Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.