Classic Car Buffs Taken for a Ride by International Con Artists

(Bloomberg) -- Automotive buffs looking to buy classic cars online were sideswiped by a group of international con artists who posed as dealers and collectors to scam them, U.S. federal prosecutors said.

Ten people were arrested in the U.S., Finland, Latvia and Lithuania, prosecutors said in announcing the charges Wednesday. The group allegedly created fake personas on well-known online auction and trading sites and claimed to be selling classic vehicles, as well as boats and machinery.

“The defendants’ once-lucrative joyride is over,” U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman, said in a statement.

The conspirators pretended to negotiate sales, coming to agreements with buyers on prices, down payments and shipping costs, and then directed the victims to send money to supposed transportation companies that would accept payment and ship the cars, prosecutors said. The collectors thought they were agreeing to buy cars such as Mercedes-Benzes, Porsches, Teslas and 1960s Dodges and Chevrolets.

The companies were allegedly shell corporations set up to receive the payments and the money was immediately withdrawn and sent to countries in Eastern Europe. The victims never received cars and many were unable to recover their money or had to repay loans they took out to buy the vehicles, prosecutors said.

Four of the defendants were arrested in the New York borough of Queens in December, while another two were taken into custody in Kuldiga, Latvia, the same month and extradited to the U.S. Two others were arrested in Riga, Latvia, and Vilnius, Lithuania, and extradited to the U.S. Two others apprehended in Helsinki and Vilnius are awaiting extradition.

The defendants face as long as 30 years in prison if convicted.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.