Scammers are raking in big bucks selling used vehicles they say will be delivered by an Air Force plane. And they are exploiting the good name of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service by falsely representing it as part of an AAFES program.
To reel in their victims, the scammers place ads in civilian newspapers and automobile sales magazines, AAFES officials said. The victims call a number, leave amessage stating they're interested in a certain vehicle, and receive a fraudulent invoice via email bearing the official AAFES logo.
The legitimate military exchanges do not have authority to sell vehicles in the continental U.S., nor do they deal in used cars or advertise in civilian-oriented publications.
AAFES has received calls from about a dozen people over the past few weeks who either lost money or were warned at the last minute by their banks not to wire the money, said Rick Koloski, AAFES' loss prevention vice president. In one case, a couple went to their bank, withdrew money, then went to a Wal-Mart store to wire the amount for what they thought was a 2002 Mercedes S500.
Employees at the bank and Wal-Mart warned the couple not to do it, but the couple didn't heed the advice, Koloski said. They wired $4,000 to the scammer to try to buy the car. Then the scammer emailed the couple claiming that they had to send another $4,000 "as a car warranty." They wired the second $4,000 and have lost the entire $8,000. The couple, who apparently are not affiliated with the military, later found out that the money was picked up in Bangladesh. AAFES is unaware of any military victims.
The scammers have incorporated military lingo into their pitches to gain credibility, Koloski said, even using real a service member's identity. The scammer tells the victims to Google him, and they find a picture of him on an installation's website. Security forces at one base, contacted by AAFES, tracked down a staff sergeant who said he'd gotten a mysterious phone call from someone about selling a car.
The scammers even claim the exchange is a third party overseeing the transaction.
"AAFES is not a third party in transactions," Koloski said. "And the Air Force does not fly cars around."
Koloski said the scammers do not maintain a website, and officials have not been able to locate them. They use Voice Over Internet Protocol phones with U.S. phone numbers to deceive their victims.
In many cases, the quoted prices of the vehicles are too-good-to-be-true.
The National Consumers League, which operates www.fraud.org, has these tips to avoid car-buying scams:
• Never wire money or use a bank-to-bank transfer.
• Always try to deal locally when buying an automobile.
• Don't buy a car from someone who isn't willing to meet you face-to-face.
• Never buy a car unless you see it personally and have it inspected by a professional.
Koloski said some victims who called AAFES to get more information initially refused to believe they'd been scammed.
"One guy was so convinced it was a good deal, so I told him to send an email saying he'd be in the area and would pick up the car," Koloski said. The scammers "immediately discontinued communication."
He advises anyone who thinks they may have been taken advantage of through this scam to file a complaint through the Internet Crime Complaint Center.