Three people have been charged for laundering the proceeds of an online vehicle-sale scam that grossed more than $5 million from nearly 600 victims nationwide, including several from central Ohio.
Arrested were 35-year-old Terry J. Boutwell of Columbus, 39-year-old Tiffany A. Strobl of Columbus and 39-year-old Salitha R. Schexnayder of Miami, Florida.
Strobl pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to commit money laundering. Prosecutors say her crime resulted in the theft of more than $2 million.Advertisement – Story continues below
According to a federal indictment, unsuspecting buyers in Ohio who went on websites like Craigslist, eBay Motors and Cars.com and ended up getting scammed out of tens of thousands of dollars for cars they never received.
The scheme enticed buyers by pricing vehicles below market value.
“If you’re looking to buy an ATV, car, van, it’s best to inspect it in person. Short of that, you just don’t know when you are dealing with people over the internet whose really on the other side,” said US Attorney Benjamin Glassman of Southern District of Ohio.
According to the indictment, the scammers used fake names and dozens of bank accounts to fool buyers nationwide into thinking they found their dream car. What they didn’t know is that the seller never had possession of the cars.
“There were over 600 victims across the country,” Glassman said.
The government says the scam started as early as 2015 and ended in 2017.
Victims believed they were wiring funds or submitting pre-paid debit card information to be held in escrow as part of the buyer protection program. The suspects then withdrew the money and placed it in separate accounts.
The victims told investigators the sellers would tell them they were in the U.S. Air Force and were about to be transferred and needed to sell the cars quickly.
Investigators say buyers wired money under the guise it would be protected under eBay buyer protection. It’s a real program, but the invoice that was given to buyers was actually fake.
If buyers had questions, they were given a number with the last digits ending in 3229, which is E-B-A-Y.
The IRS has a warning for other scam artists looking to make a quick buck.
“My warning is you may be making a lot of money now, but you will be caught you will be held accountable,” said Ryan Korner, Special Agent in Charge IRS.
The suspects in the online car fraud could face up to 20 years in prison.