Kelley Blue Book Escrow Scam Targets Online Auto Buyers

Crooks play on trust for Kelley Blue Book, plus home makeover and cell phone shield scams: Internet Scambusters #477

Scammers are exploiting the well-known name of Kelley Blue Book, public health risk fears about cell phones, and the popularity of home makeover TV shows in the latest epidemic of con tricks.

We have all the details of these latest headline-grabbing scams and schemes in this week’s Snippets issue.

Plus, we have the lowdown on a sudden surge in ATM cash-trapping, where crooks use a variety of tricks to block your $20 bills inside cash machines, returning later to collect their “winnings.”

Let’s check out today’s…

Kelley Blue Book Escrow Scam Targets Online Auto Buyers

Websites that look almost identical to the famous Kelley Blue Book auto pricing guide site are being used as a front for a phony escrow scam.

Escrow is the system where a third party, independent of a buyer or seller, holds the money for a deal until a product is delivered.

The buyer pays the money to the escrow company, the seller sends the product to the buyer, and then once it’s received, the escrow company hands the cash to the seller.

That’s great, provided the escrow company is legit and honest but, as we’ve previously reported, crooks set up bogus escrow companies and then simply run off with the cash.

Escrow Services Scams and Fake College Degrees

According to Kelley Blue Book, the latest fake websites offer what seems to be an escrow-type buyer protection program, a service that Kelley Blue Book itself does not, repeat NOT, offer.

So, as the company says, “any escrow-based consumer-to-consumer service or Buyer & Seller Protection Program offered under its name is a scam.”

The con starts with a bogus online car listing on a reputable site. The price is usually very low for the make and model, with a phony excuse about a quick sale being needed because of a divorce or military deployment.

The listing usually has a link to another site, supposedly offering more details. It may look very similar to the Kelley Blue Book site,, teeming with all sorts of guarantees and buyer protection info.

Buyers are then supposed to wire full or partial payment to the bogus Kelley Blue Book escrow service. Since this would be an electronic cash payment, the recipient is untraceable.

“Recently, criminals have added sophisticated technology to their scam by adding 800 numbers and offering live chat with potential buyers in an effort to ease their concerns about online car buying and detailed information on the fraudulent buyer protection programs,” says Shayne Brown, Kelley Blue Book associate general counsel.

As we always warn, you should never wire money to someone you don’t know and you should always check the true address of the site you’re visiting in the browser address bar.

The FBI has some great tips on how to avoid online car buying scams.

Fake Cell Phone Shield

While the health-risk arguments about heavy use of cell phones is batted back and forth between the experts, phone users are being targeted by crooks selling fake cell phone shields.

Not only does this supposed cell phone shield fail to provide any sort of protection against emissions, it may also actually interfere with your phone signal.

The scam devices are typically a cover that’s placed over the earpiece or another part of the phone but, as the Federal Trade Commission points out, electro-magnetic emissions come from the whole phone.

“If you’re looking for ways to limit your exposure to the electromagnetic emissions from your cell phone,” they warn, “know that …there is no scientific proof that so-called shields significantly reduce exposure from these electromagnetic emissions.”

For more information, including guidance on how to limit your exposure to electromagnetism, visit the FTC consumer alert page.

Home Makeover Scam

The recent popularity of TV shows featuring total home makeovers has sparked an outbreak of simple but remarkably effective crimes.

With genuine makeover shows targeting many communities around the country, it’s an easy matter for a con artist to use the theme as a means of talking his way into your house.

The trick played out most recently in a couple of Minnesota communities where crooks simply went door-to-door asking if they could inspect homes for their potential to be included in a show.

Once inside, they could steal anything of value they laid their hands on.

This is just the latest of a whole range of con tricks people use to get into homes, and the preventive action is equally simple: Don’t allow anyone into your house until you’re 110% sure of their identity.

That means checking their ID cards, sending them away, and then checking them out independently.

It’s also worth noting that TV companies generally don’t go door-to-door in this way to look for makeover possibilities. They usually invite people to apply or nominate a home.

And if they ever contact you after that, they’ll be happy to allow you time to check them out.

ATM Cash Trapping Alert

A surge in ATM cash trapping, which has recently been reported in Europe, could be on its way over to the US.

The number of reported incidents last year leapt by 69%, according to the banking industry crime-watch site

“Cash trapping is a relatively low-tech scheme” the site explains. “Just as it sounds, criminals manipulate an ATM’s dispenser so that cash requested during a legitimate ATM withdrawal is blocked or trapped. Once the user gives up and leaves the ATM, the fraudsters come in and remove the cash.”

Banks and other financial organizations have a major responsibility themselves to monitor their machines, but often they’re in locations that can’t be checked frequently.

The best advice is to try to use ATMs that are inside or attached to a bank building. But if you do get caught, failing to get your money or your card returned, stay by the machine and use your cell phone to call your bank.

If you have someone with you, get them to report it to the bank or storeowner.

And don’t fall for the old con trick of accepting an offer from the person behind you in line to guard the machine while you go to report it. It may be the crook!

Get more tips on how to protect yourself from ATM theft in our earlier report, ATM Theft: 8 Tips to Protect Yourself From the 5 Most Common ATM Scams.

Our scams in this week’s issue highlight three common aspects of crime — they can be simple, like the phony home makeover, remarkably fast at relieving you of your money, like ATM cash trapping, and exploit your trust, like the Kelley Blue Book escrow scam. Beware!

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.