March 19 – JAMESTOWN – A scammer is posing as a business south of Jamestown and has even created a website that includes high-end vehicles in an attempt to scam customers out of money.
Dennis Michel, co-owner of Michel’s Auto Sales & Parts, began receiving calls March 8 about vehicles such as a Tesla. He says he received about fifty calls.
“The texts were absolutely insane,” he said.
The fake website — michelautosales.com — includes high-end vehicles like a Porsche, Bentley and Ferrari. The website lists two phone numbers with the North Dakota area code, and one number has the same last four digits as Michel’s Auto Sales & Parts. The address listed on the website is the same as the Jamestown business, but Michel did not have a website for his business.
“Of course, it’s probably devastating to a person’s business,” Michel said. “They’re using your name, they’re using your residence, they’re using your business, and that’s just not okay. They shouldn’t be able to get away with that.”
He said the scammer even had vehicle titles with his company name on them.
He said his company sells low-end vehicles, four-wheel-drive pickup trucks and auto parts such as engines, transmissions, sheet metal fenders and hoods.
“Lots of people called businesses in the area and the sheriff also checked us out if we were legit,” he said. “But these are (fake sales) of high-end vehicles and high-end trucks, big-ticket trucks. Of course, people know in this area that we don’t sell that stuff.”
Someone in Chicago wired the scammer $50,000 after they thought he was buying a Ford Raptor pickup truck, said Chief Deputy Jason Falk, a detective with the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office.
“He received text messages from a phone saying, ‘I’m bringing your vehicle to you. I will be there on Tuesday. Just outside the cities right now,'” he said. “They spoke to several people. They had a title for the vehicle. Anything you can fake and it’s a scam.”
He said the fake website follows the normal process of buying a vehicle online. He said the money that was transferred to the scammer went to a bank in New York.
“We’re working on some things to that end with the banking system but I guess it’s been passed on because we’ve worked on that before where it goes somewhere in the United States and from there it goes to Nigeria. or somewhere. like that and then it’s gone,” Falk said. “He was probably gone the minute he touched him.”
Falk said the scam may be one of the most elaborate he has seen. He said scammers continue to evolve and become more complicated, complex and better at what they do.
“If I had looked at this website, I would never have guessed it was a scam website,” he said.
Falk said the sheriff’s office is trying to trace the origin of the scam.
“I’ve worked quite a few of them, and it always ends up being a different country,” he said. “Nigeria is big, Russia.”
He said he traced the photos and videos of the vehicles to the websites of different dealerships.
“You go to YouTube and you can steal this and post it and say, ‘Hey, this is the truck I’m selling,'” he said. “That’s what we’re dealing with here.”
Michel said he wouldn’t take long-distance phone calls from people inquiring about high-end vehicles at first. But, after speaking with the sheriff’s office, he was told that it would be a good idea to answer calls and let people know that the website is a scam.
The North Dakota Consumer Protection Division has been made aware of the website’s existence, Falk said. He said the sheriff’s office was working with the US Department of Homeland Security to have the website shut down.
“Talking to North Dakota Consumer Protection, they say you can shut it down, but they have so much work on this website that they’re just going to pop it up in a different area,” he said. declared. “You’ll just turn it off and open it in a different domain and it’s up and running again.”
Falk said Michel’s Auto Sales & Parts does not have a website, but is looking to create one with a message saying: “Be aware. There is an impostor website advertising for us and this is not not us.”
The problem with scams is that most of them originate overseas, Falk said.
“We can’t touch them legally, and that’s why it’s so prevalent now because they can get away with it,” he said.
He said the FBI would work on some cases if they were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but there was little to do when the scams originated overseas.
Falk said potential customers of the scammer’s website began calling the sheriff’s office to see if the business was legit. He said a retired police officer called to inquire about the business because he had checked the business on Google Maps, but saw something that looked nothing like a hall. exhibit where the vehicles appeared to be in the website photos.
He said other clues that a website might be a scam are asking to wire money from your bank account, requesting gift cards or making transactions through Western Union.
“Anytime someone wants you to wire money, it’s a risky proposition because it doesn’t take long and those things are gone and you can’t get them back,” he said. declared.
Falk said most scammers don’t want credit card payments and are looking more for gift cards or for personal information such as date of birth and a social security number.