Scammers know that consumers are doing more and more shopping online including for vehicles.  They also know consumers are becoming more aware about online scams — so the scams are becoming more sophisticated.  The FBI just posted (May 30th) a consumer alert about the latest scam they’ve learned about — and this one’s especially deceptive because it looks so legitimate.

How does this scam work? The FBI reports seeing an increase in cyber criminals using photo-sharing programs to steal money through phony purchases and to infect victims’ computers (www.fbi.gov; “Cyber Criminals Using Photo-Sharing Programs to Compromise Computers”). The criminals run online ads for vehicles but without any photos.  The photos are then sent either as a single file in an email attachment or the consumer gets a link to an online photo gallery.

The photos can, and often do, contain malicious software which will, if opened, infect the consumer’s computer.  The photos may also direct the consumer to a phony website that looks very real and similar to the original website where the vehicle ad was posted.   The second website is particularly sophisticated since the FBI warns the criminals operate all aspects of the phony website — from “tech support” to “live chat support” as well as “recommended escrow services.”

So what happens next? After opening the infected photo, the consumer makes the purchase, sends payment (via credit card or other financial information) and waits for the item to arrive or for “pick up” instructions. Time passes with no merchandise and no responses to the consumer’s emails or other correspondence.

Please don’t fall victim to this scam — protect your personal financial information and your computer.  But if you do become a victim of this, or any other e-scam, you should report it to the FBI.  You can do so on their Internet Crime Complaint Center website (www.ic3.gov).