By Herb Weisbaum ConsumerMan
msnbc.com contributor
updated 9/29/2011 7:40:28 AM ET 2011-09-29T11:40:28

There are special dangers to buying a car online. According to FBI data, between 2008 and 2010, at least $44 million has been lost to online auto scams that involve a fraudulent website or phony vehicle listing.

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Now these cyber car crooks are using the good name of Kelley Blue Book to con potential victims into believing they are legit. The company just issued a fraud alert about a scam that uses a fake Kelley Blue Book website and offers a non-existent KBB guaranteed buyer-protection program.

The scam often starts with a bogus ad on a legitimate website that sells cars. The asking price is usually below market value. Those who respond to the ad will get an email explaining the low price. The seller will say they need to liquidate the car quickly because of a divorce or military deployment. And for that reason the transaction cannot be done in person.

If you seem interested, the bad guys will try to move you off of that legitimate site to one they’ve created.

“The fake website looks just like KBB.com,” said Kelley Blue Book’s Robyn Eagles. “They’ve stolen a lot of our graphics, our logo and a lot of information directly from our website to create their fake web page.”

I saw one of the look-alike sites this week. And I can tell you, it looks completely legitimate. There are links to bona fide sites and exact copies of ads from the real KBB site. I can see how people get fooled. The only red flag I spotted was the Australian URL. Kelley Blue Book is based in the U.S. and its URL ends with ".com."

The site offers what sounds like a “no-risk” way to purchase a car over the Internet without ever seeing it. You make a down payment by wire (the method of payment preferred by scammers) and have the car shipped to you. If you don’t like it or don’t want it, the buyer-protection program, supposedly backed by KBB, lets you return it at no cost.

“We do not offer this type of program,” Eagles warned. “If you run across this type of website or this type of offer, it’s a scam.”

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I’ve reported on these online car buying scams before (Scammers use web to rip off car buyers) and since then the bad guys have gotten more sophisticated. The folks at Kelley Blue Book say the scammers now have toll-free numbers and even offer live chat. It’s all designed to make them appear to be legitimate and calm any fears potential a potential victim might have about buying a car this way.

A recent FBI alert (Buying a Car Online? Read This First) lists some of the warning signs of a possible online car scam:

  • Cars are advertised at too-good-to-be true prices.
  • Sellers want to move transactions from the original website to another site.
  • Sellers claim that a buyer-protection program offered by a major Internet company covers an auto transaction conducted outside that company’s website.
  • Sellers refuse to meet in person or allow potential buyers to inspect the car ahead of time.
  • Sellers who say they want to sell the car because they’re in the U.S. military about to be deployed, are moving, the car belonged to someone who recently died, or a similar story.
  • Sellers who ask for funds to be wired ahead of time.

If you run across an offer like this, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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