The Better Business Bureau is warning private car sellers of an alleged scheme involving companies it says offer to check a vehicle's service history.
These companies then reportedly urge the seller to hand over their credit card information.
The bureau says it appears one such company, Proofvin.com, imitates the services of legitimate organizations that conduct service record checks on used vehicles.
This would be a "misleading and a questionable business practice," said Evan Kelly of the B.C. Better Business Bureau's mainland division.
The bureau says it has received complaints that private car sellers have been approached by interested buyers through text or email.
Under the alleged scheme cited by the Better Business Bureau, the potential buyer asks for a vehicle history from Carproofvin.com, a name similar to Carproof a legitimate organization that provides information about a vehicle's service and insurance history.
These reports are often used by private car sellers to assess a vehicle's value.
But under the scheme cited by the Better Business Bureau, the buyer allegedly has no intention of purchasing the vehicle.
In the case of Proofvin.com. Kelly said a domain check shows the site is just over a month old and its IP location is in the Netherlands.
Red flag alert
These discrepancies should serve as red flags, Kelly said.
CBC has learned the thumbnail biographies that appeared on ProofVin's website this week were the same, word-for-word, as the staff profiles displayed on a U.S.-based web development company called Chromatic.
And one man listed on ProofVin's staff page is in fact a partner at Chromatic.
In an interview, one of Chromatic's other partners, Chris Free, said he's angry staff members' identities were taken and used by ProofVin.
Free said the company has been in contact with its attorneys to try and get this information off ProofVin's website. In fact, the staff bios were removed from ProofVin's website by 4 p.m. PT Thursday.
"It feels terrible that our names are attached to that, even if we have nothing to do with that," Free said in a telephone interview from Chicago.
"It just feels bad that our identities, our employee identities are tied to this without their knowledge. It feels like a total violation and it just makes us feel less safe on the web."
Abbotsford, B.C., resident Susan Havinga said she nearly fell for an email she received in response to an ad to sell her used Honda truck.
Havinga obtained her vehicle's service record history from Carproof, a London, Ont.-based company that provides records of accidents, major repairs, ownership changes and insurance information.
In Havinga's case, a potential buyer contacted her and urged her to use Proofvin over Carproof, saying it was more reliable and cheaper.
"I'd just like to suggest [to] you if you can use carproofvin.com to get the report (my friend told me about it)," the buyer wrote.
But Havinga's son, who is also selling a vehicle, told his mother that he'd been warned by friends about the site. She cut off contact with the person who emailed her and reported the site to the Better Business Bureau.
ProofVin said no one was available to do an interview. In an email exchange, the company said it was sorry if it's website caused any inconvenience and conceded that one "affiliate" used an "unethical" method.
However, the website did not reply when asked to explain why its staff bios were the same as the employee biographies at Chromatic.
"We are a website which is selling vehicle history reports based on VIN number. We have 20+ affiliates promoting our site through several platforms — Facebook, Forums, Newspapers, Direct marketing and other promotional channels," the email said.
"They are earning commission selling our product. In this case, as I can see, one of our affiliates used an unethical method to make a commission (promoting by phone).
"We are going to check almost each sale our affiliates bring to us but sometimes we are not able to cover all of them."
A spokesperson for Carproof said this wouldn't be the first time an imitator has purported to offer the same services. In the past, its lawyers have sent warning letters to these companies.
"In a perverse way, imitation is the best form of flattery, but the reason we react is we take our brand very seriously," said Joe Varkey, Carproof's vice-president of marketing in a phone interview from London, Ont.
"When it comes to how we could be possibly misrepresented to the consumer, that's why we react very quickly."