TORONTO - Several Canadians who thought they were buying a luxury car online are out $200,000 after it was discovered that the purportedly U.S.-based company may not actually exist.
Authorities say American scammers have been targeting Canadians because cross-border prosecutions are more difficult.
"Any time you have a jurisdictional border between the victim and the criminals it's a massive headache," said Daniel Williams, a supervisor at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
"It will sadly always work to their advantage."
The centre has passed information along to law enforcement agencies in the U.S., but it's up to them to decide if they have resources to devote to an investigation, he said. Alleged victims likely won't get their money back.
"The possibility is there," Williams said. "From what we see, the track record for it isn't encouraging."
Advertisements of luxury vehicles appear on the Canadian websites of AutoTrader, eBay, Craigslist, Kijiji and Wheels.ca at prices regulators say are too good to be true.
At least five Canadians fell victim to one such ploy, the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council said Tuesday.
Terry O'Keefe, a spokesman for the council, said those people came forward to say they had lost tens of thousands of dollars each after arranging to buy cars through Ambient Auto Centre, which said it was in Oklahoma.
The cars never came and those people haven't been able to get their money back. Shortly after the council publicized a fraud warning last month Ambient's website disappeared and their phone number went dead.
The address Ambient had on their website led authorities in Oklahoma to an empty field.
Two weeks later Sprint Luxury Autos started advertising on the same websites and their homepage looked nearly identical to the former Ambient site, O'Keefe said. The physical address listed on that website led to a Sprint telecommunications building in Oklahoma, he said.
The council issued another news release warning Canadians about online auto frauds and named Sprint, O'Keefe said. Shortly after that the Sprint Luxury Autos website went down.
Now, the council believes a company called Husen Original Autos may be related. It is advertising luxury vehicle sales in the same forums, has a website that looks almost exactly like the former two in design and in wordings and testimonials, O'Keefe said.
A call to the number listed on Husen Original Autos' website goes to a voicemail for Sprint Luxury Autos but a message left there was not returned.
U.S. authorities say Husen Original Autos is not licensed and has no physical presence — the address listed on their website is actually a community centre in Phoenix, Ariz.
O'Keefe points to various websites for legitimate motor vehicle dealers on which pictures that appear to match pictures of cars listed on Husen Original Autos' website can be found.
Pictures of a 2011 Maserati GranTurismo S listed on Husen Original Autos' website for $95,000 appear to be the same as ones for the same car listed for $135,000 on the website for Eurospeed Imports, which O'Keefe said is a legitimate dealer in California.
Some fraudsters use luxury cars to entice victims from abroad because, O'Keefe said, people aren't likely to pay to have a five-year-old Honda Civic shipped to them, but they might if they think they're saving tens of thousands of dollars on a luxury car.
"The best way to prevent these problems from occurring is to educate consumers so they understand that if a price looks too good to be true, well, you know, that shouldn't be seen as an opportunity," O'Keefe said.
"That's a warning because it is too good to be true. No one is going to sell a $135,000 vehicle for $90,000."
The alleged victims in this case come from across Canada and are reporting the incidents to their local police forces, so O'Keefe urged anyone who thinks they may have fallen prey to such a scam to also contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre — jointly managed by the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police and the Competition Bureau Canada.
Here is a link: http://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/english/home-eng.html