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 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, shutting down websites and creating new fake businesses.
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.
- Before doing business online with an unfamiliar company, 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."
- 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.