“Tag-Teaming,” the act of two illegal car sellers in different locations working together to hide their identities and lure unsuspecting car buyers to purchase vehicles, is emerging as a trend in online auto sales, according to the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC). Mystery Shopper research also revealed the growing trend of curbsiders (illegal sellers who usually pose as private sellers or small businesses) using online ads to sell popular vehicles and, more recently, high-end models.
As part of this province-wide research, random calls were made to “private” vehicle sellers with ads posted on free online websites. “Stop asking stupid questions,” was one seller’s response to a potential buyer when she asked if the advertised vehicle had been in any major accidents. Another suspicious seller was confused about which vehicle the buyer was calling about. Why? Because he had numerous cars for sale; often a sign the seller is a curbsider. “Ontarians need to be careful when buying online. They need to become educated and learn to spot the common tactics curbsiders use,” says Carey Smith, OMVIC’s Director of Investigations. “And if the car is much cheaper than most other models of the same year and mileage, the consumer should be very cautious and should consider walking away from the deal.”
OMVIC is warning Ontario vehicle buyers who are seeking a sweet deal to avoid a sour experience with the launch this month of its fall consumer awareness campaign that spotlights these new trends in online auto sales.
According to Smith, the increased use of free online advertising makes it easier for curbsiders to run their business and more difficult to track them: “The trend of curbsiders using online ads to bilk unsuspecting car buyers who are looking for a deal is rapidly growing.” Industry research finds that 25 per cent of “private” classified ads on online marketplaces like Kijiji and Craigslist are actually posted by curbsiders.
One devious tag-team operated its illegal business from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and a city in northern Ontario. The team registered vehicles to the member in northern Ontario, but her partner would sell the vehicles in the GTA. “They thought this would make it difficult to track them,” says Smith. “It is becoming increasingly common for curbsiders to try to sell vehicles that are not registered in their name, so purchasers will have to be bold and check ID: ask to see the seller’s driver’s licence and compare it to the car’s registration. If they don’t match – walk; and don’t listen to the excuses they will try to use to explain it.”
Unfortunately some consumers ignore the warning signs in the search for a bargain. Smith warns, “Buying a vehicle is a big investment, so consumers should do their homework – don’t get sucked in by a cheap price. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. And be aware that not all curbsiders pose as private sellers; some may be working out of businesses like rental companies, repair shops and gas stations. If they are not registered with OMVIC, they are not legitimate sellers. If you’re unsure, ask to see their OMVIC licence; if they can’t produce one, leave! And report them to OMVIC.”
To help Ontario car buyers avoid curbsiders, OMVIC offers the Creepometer, an interactive online tool and video. The Creepometer and other valuable resources can be found at BuyWithConfidence.ca.
The only way Ontario car buyers can fully protect themselves is to buy their vehicles from an Ontario-registered dealer. By law, registered dealers provide:
Advertising disclosure and all-in pricing with no hidden fees
Mandatory full disclosure of a vehicle’s past use, history and condition
Cancellation or rescission rights if specified information is not disclosed
Access to the Motor Vehicle Dealers Compensation Fund – up to $45,000 for each valid claim made to the Fund
The Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC) administers and enforces the Motor Vehicle Dealers Act (MVDA) on behalf of the Ministry of Consumer Services. OMVIC maintains a fair and informed vehicle sales marketplace by regulating dealers and salespersons, regularly inspecting Ontario’s 8,000 dealerships and 24,000 salespeople, maintaining a complaint line for consumers and conducting investigations and prosecutions. OMVIC is also responsible for administering the Motor Vehicle Dealers Compensation Fund on behalf of its Board of Trustees.