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Scammer creates website posing as Jamestown business

A website depicting to be Michel’s Auto Sales & Parts lists high-end vehicles in an attempt to scam potential customers.

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Michel's Auto Sales & Parts, located south of Jamestown, was recently targeted as part of a high-dollar illegal scheme.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

JAMESTOWN – A scammer is posing as a business south of Jamestown and even created a website that includes high-end vehicles in an attempt to scam customers out of money.

Dennis Michel, co-owner of Michel’s Auto Sales & Parts, started receiving calls on March 8 about vehicles such as a Tesla. He said he received about 50 calls.

“The texts were absolutely crazy,” he said.

If I would have looked at this website, I would have never guessed that this was a scammer’s website
Chief Deputy Jason Falk, detective, Stutsman County Sheriff's Office

The fake website – michelautosales.com – includes high-end vehicles such as a Porsche, Bentley and Ferrari. The website lists two phone numbers with the North Dakota area code, and one number has the same last four digits as Michel’s Auto Sales & Parts. The address listed on the website is the same as the Jamestown business, but Michel did not have a website for his business.

“Of course, it’s probably devastating to a person’s business,” Michel said. “They are using your name, they are using your residence, they are using your business, and it just is not right. They shouldn’t be able to get by with that.”

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A scam involving the creation of a website, michelautosales.com, tries to get people to wire money buy making them think they are purchasing high-end vehicles like the ones shown in the screenshot taken Thursday, March 17.
Masaki Ova / The Jamestown Sun

He said the scammer even had vehicle titles with his business name on it.

He said his business sells some lower-end vehicles, four-wheel-drive pickups and auto parts such as motors, transmissions, sheet metal fenders and hoods.

“We had numerous people call businesses in the area and also the sheriff checking on us to see if we are legit,” he said. “But it’s (the fake sales) all about high-end vehicles and top-end trucks, high-dollar trucks. Of course people know in this area that we don’t sell that type of stuff.”

Someone from Chicago wired $50,000 to the scammer after he thought he was purchasing a Ford Raptor pickup, said Chief Deputy Jason Falk, a detective with the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office.

“He had text messages from a phone saying, ‘I’m bringing you your vehicle. I will be there on Tuesday. Just outside of the cities right now,’” he said. “They talked to multiple people. They had a title for the vehicle. All things you can fake and it’s all a scam.”

He said the fake website follows the normal process of purchasing a vehicle online. He said the money that was wired to the scammer went to a bank in New York.

“We are working on some things on that end with the banking system, but I’m guessing it got forwarded on because we have worked these before where it gets sent to somewhere in the U.S. and from there it gets shot across to Nigeria or somewhere like that and then it’s gone,” Falk said. “It was probably gone the minute it hit it.”

Falk said the scam might be one of the most elaborate ones he has seen. He said the scammers keep evolving and get more complicated, complex and better at what they do.

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“If I would have looked at this website, I would have never guessed that this was a scammer’s website,” he said.

Falk said the Sheriff’s Office is trying to trace where the scam originated from.

“I’ve worked quite a few of these, and it always ends up being a different country,” he said. “Nigeria is a big one, Russia.”

He said he traced the photos and videos of the vehicles to websites of different dealerships.

“You go on YouTube and you can steal that and post it and say, ‘Hey, this is the truck I’m selling,’” he said. “That’s what we are dealing with here.”

Michel said he would not answer the long-distance phone calls from people inquiring about the high-end vehicles at first. But, after talking with the Sheriff’s Office, he was told it would be a good idea to answer the calls and inform the people that the website is a scam.

The North Dakota Consumer Protection division has been notified about the website, Falk said. He said the Sheriff’s Office is working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to get the website shut down.

“Talking with North Dakota Consumer Protection, they say you can shut it down, but they have so much work into that website that they will just pop it up in a different domain,” he said. “You will just shut it down and open it up in a different domain and it’s back up and running again.”

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Falk said Michel’s Auto Sales & Parts does not have a website but was looking to create one with a message that says: "Be aware. There is an imposter website advertising as us and it’s not us."

The problem with the scams is most of them originate overseas, Falk said.

"We can’t touch them legally, and that’s why it is so prevalent now because they can get away with it,” he said.

He said the FBI will work on certain cases if they are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars but there isn’t much that can be done when scams originate overseas.

Falk said potential customers of the scammer’s website started calling the Sheriff’s Office to see if the business was legitimate. He said a retired police officer called asking about the business because he checked Google Maps for the business but saw something that did not look anything like a showroom where the vehicles appeared to be in the photos on the website.

He said other clues a website could be a scam is being asked to wire money from your bank account, requests for gift cards or making transactions through Western Union.

“Anytime someone wants you to wire money, it’s a dicey proposition because it doesn’t take long and that stuff is gone and you can’t get it back,” he said.

Falk said most scammers do not want credit-card payments and are looking more for gift cards or to obtain personal information such as date of birth and a Social Security number.

Masaki Ova joined The Jamestown Sun in August 2021 as a reporter. He grew up on a farm near Pingree, N.D. He majored in communications at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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