NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Shoppers can buy just about anything these days online. And online auctions can seem like a great way to get items at a good price.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates found what appears to be a fake online auction that's drawing in potential customers from across the country.
But before bidding on anything, make sure that auction is real.
The company running the auction site said it's based in Nashville. But as NewsChannel 5 Investigates found, there's no way their offices are where they claim to be.
It's got a strange name. It's called AuctionTheBest.com.
And it's where a company calling itself Auct Best LLC has claimed to be auctioning just about any type of vehicle shoppers are looking for and then some.
"We just wanted something that was inexpensive," Darren Simmons told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
Simmons found an RV on the online auction site and thought it was such a deal, he placed a bid. Soon after, he got an invoice and instructions to transfer $45,000 immediately from his bank account. Then his phone rang.
"He said, 'You are the winner, and we will deliver the coach once you make full payment,'" Simmons recalled.
But the Indiana man wanted to see the RV in person first.
"I said, 'Why don’t you just deliver the coach, and I will pay you when you get it here?'" Simmons said.
But the guy from the auction company wanted the money right then and there. And Simmons said he just got a really weird feeling.
So he went back online, typed in the brand and year of RV he was about to buy and discovered the exact same vehicle being sold by a dealer in Texas.
"With the same pictures? A lot of the same descriptions?" we asked Simmons.
"Everything. Identical," he confirmed.
The Texas dealer selling the RV was Terri Roberts.
"It’s a total scam," Roberts said of Auctionthebest.com.
Roberts owns Starlight Motors just outside of Dallas and was shocked to see the RV she has listed for $179,000, being offered on the other website for a fraction of the price. She immediately called AuctBest.
"And I said, 'Yes, you have a 2001 Newell that belongs to me on your website, and I want you to take it down immediately.' And he said, 'I don’t know what you’re talking about.' And I said, 'Sure you do. You’ve taken all of my pictures and my verbiage, and I’m going to turn you into the Attorney General’s office.' And he said, 'Good luck with that,' and hung up the phone on me," Roberts told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
AuctBest claimed to be based right here in Nashville.
But it's not registered to do business in Tennessee.
And while the website said its office is at 15 Deaderick St., there is no 15 Deaderick St. in downtown. Technically, that's the middle of Public Square Park in front of the old Metro Courthouse.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates shared that with Roberts, the RV dealer in Texas.
She laughed and said, "That doesn’t surprise me."
But what concerns Roberts is that people seem to think AuctiontheBest is real and is actually selling vehicles because she keeps hearing from people who find her RV after they've already bid on the fake one.
"I’ve had, you know, probably 10 or 12 other calls from other individuals, and I have explained that I’ve done all that I can and assured them that it is a scam," Roberts said.
And Roberts' listing isn't the only hijacked ad.
A New Hampshire man filed a complaint with the Tennessee Attorney General's Office after he too almost bought an RV on the AuctiontheBest website, but then found the same RV, with the same pictures and descriptions, being sold on another well-known RV sales site for substantially more.
And then, there's Paul Clouatre.
"I was looking for a particular type of boat, a tri-tune party barge," he told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
Clouatre found that boat on the auction site and thought he'd bought it. The Louisana man even took the day off from work when it was supposed to be delivered.
"So you wired them $14,000?" we asked him.
"Yes," Clouatre replied.
"And then what happened? Did you get your boat?" we inquired.
"No, I did not," he said.
And Clouatre said the company suddenly wouldn't respond to his emails or take his calls.
"I worked hard for my money just like everyone else, and it’s just a shame," Clouatre said.
The Better Business Bureau recently issued a warning about online auction scams, noting the BBB has gotten "reports of fake auctions phishing for consumers' personal information and money."
At AuctiontheBest, before shoppers can even bid, they've got to send them a picture of their driver's license.
But the BBB says be careful with sensitive personal information like this and be sure to investigate and trust a website or company before sharing anything or sending money because once scammers get their hands on it, shoppers can't get it back.
"I can’t stand crooks," Simmons, the Indiana man who almost fell for this auction site, said.
And while he now realizes that what he saw on the website isn't real, what's happening there to customers is.
"You don’t do people that way," Simmons said.
Catching the people running these scams is almost impossible. Quite often they're overseas. And they vanish as soon as people start asking questions.
In fact, AuctBest's phone number now is disconnected. And just the other day, the website itself was taken down. But, NewsChanenl 5 Investigates found another very similar website popped up almost immediately after that and started selling some of these same vehicles.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
Want to protect yourself and your money from these auction scams? Before you bid on anything, make sure you research the company running the auction and read the reviews.
Find out what additional fees or shipping costs you may be responsible for. Be very careful about wiring money or using another payment service that you're not familiar with.
And, check the seller's contact information and make sure you're able to reach someone who can answer your questions.