Over the past year or so, scams involving phony websites and fake online businesses have become more prevalent. It is very easy to create a website from anywhere in the world. The scam artists create the phony business website, add a few fake "positive reviews" and use a fake street address in the United States - or even co-opt the actual street address of an unsuspecting legitimate business - and then sit back and wait for the payments to roll in. The unsuspecting customer, believing there is a real "bricks-and-mortar" business associated with the website, submits an online payment or wire transfer to complete the transaction. Unfortunately, because the fake business exists only online, the scam artists cannot be tracked. The unsuspecting customer is out the money, which cannot be recovered. The scam artists move quickly, creating new fake business websites as they need to keep the scams going.
The consumer protection division has received numerous reports from out of state victims of fake online business/website scams that use North Dakota street addresses, apparently taking advantage of the good reputation North Dakota businesses generally enjoy. Some variations of the fake online business scams reported to us include: the business claims to sells used or seized vehicles, or ship/transport vehicles and recreational vehicles, or provides investment, financial, or real property transfer services.
- December 2021: A real North Dakota registered used car dealer, Vehicle Solutions, located in Minot, was the recent target of scammers who created a fake business website for the dealership along with a fake email address, and successfully conned out-of-state consumers out of more than $130,000 in wire transfers to purchase vehicles that did not exist before the fake website was discovered. The real Vehicle Solutions does not have a business website.
Fake websites are also used in phony "work from home" job offers so that scam artists can collect personal information from hopeful applicants. Instead of a job, the hopeful applicant is at risk of identity theft or worse.
- Be sure to check out the street address using an online mapping program, and click the "street view" option to see what is actually located at that address.
- Check with the regulatory government authorities in the state where the business is supposedly located.
- Not all business websites are legitimate, and there is no internet "police force." The money you send is gone.
- Before providing information in response to a work from home "opportunity" check with the Consumer Protection division at 701-328-3404