INDIANAPOLIS — Many people go online to save money on big-ticket items, especially during the holidays.
But before you hit the “Complete Order” button, you’ll want to read about a Milton, Wisconsin couple’s story and their experience with an Indianapolis-based company.
Terry and Debbra Meade are looking to do some traveling in their retirement.
“We started talking about buying a motor home,” said Terry. “We do car shows and travel."
Hoping for a deal, the couple started looking for an RV on the Facebook Marketplace.
A popup ad led them to an online auction website called Inline Repo, supposedly based in downtown Indianapolis.
The Meades found a 2007 Fleetwood Discovery that caught their eye.
"It had a minimum starting bid of $23,000, and we thought, ‘Boy, that's pretty cheap,’” said Terry. “This is a high-end unit. When the bidding was going to come to an end, we jumped on board.”
“We were all excited,” said Debbra. “We thought ‘yay we got this!’"
The Meades received an email congratulating them on winning the 2007 Fleetwood Discovery.
“The rules are you pay within 48 hours, which is typically for an auction,” said Terry.
Terry wired the $28,000 from his account at Blackhawk Bank to a Chase bank account in Maryland.
The same day, Debbra found pictures of their RV on a dealership’s website in New York.
When Debbra called them, the owner told her they sold that vehicle years ago.
"So, we said, ‘Oh shoot, something is not right here,’" said Terry.
Terry called his bank and JP Morgan Chase bank to stop the wire transfer, but it was too late.
“$28,000 is a sizable chunk of money for us,” said Terry.
“That’s part of our retirement,” said Debbra.
Terry requested a refund through Inline Repo’s website, but that was a month ago, and the refund and the RV still haven’t shown up.
“Boy, we have been schnookered now,” said Terry.
The Meades contacted WRTV Investigates because of Inline Repo’s Indianapolis ties.
WRTV Investigates called and emailed the company, but their phone number and email do not work.
WRTV also stopped by the company’s address listed on the company’s website and invoice to the Meades, 301 E. Market St. in Indianapolis.
That address is the Cummins building in downtown Indianapolis, and the landlord says Inline Repo has never been located in the building.
WRTV Investigates did some checking and found Inline Repo is not registered to do business in the state of Indiana, nor do they have an auctioneer’s license in Indiana.
The Better Business Bureau currently has an alert out about Inline Repo.
“BBB has received numerous ScamTracker reports from consumers concerning Inline Repo & Co. Consumers report to BBB that they are prompted to provide a copy of their driver's license or photo ID as well as the last four digits of their social security number as a condition of registering for an online auto auction,” read the BBB alert.
“Consumers also report that shortly after placing a BID, they are notified that they have won the auction and presented with an invoice for the cost of a vehicle requesting that they pay the amount due via money wire. Shortly after receiving an invoice, consumers are contacted by phone regarding their winning BID and a request for payment.”
The Better Business Bureau Serving Central Indiana explained why consumers should use caution.
“Apparently, they go to other legitimate auto auction places, look at a car, take a picture, use the picture, and put it on their website,” said Tim Maniscalo. He served as the President at the BBB, Serving Central Indiana at the time of his interview but has since left the BBB. “But when you go to do business with them, you don't actually get the car, and they take your money."
The BBB found the company’s URL was registered recently, on Sept. 16, 2021.
As of November, the website — https://www.inlinerepo.com — no longer exists.
"I think maybe they've gotten found out, and they closed it down,” said Maniscalo. “Companies like this will open up under a different name, under a different website, same modus operandi but with a different look. The same way of doing business, so to speak."
The BBB says fake online websites are the number one scam they’re seeing right now.
"We see a lot of that at Christmas time," said Maniscalo.
So, what happened to the Meades’ $28,000?
Terry wired it to a Maryland Company called AutoMoto Enterprise LLC.
WRTV Investigates tracked down the registered agent, Courtney Moore, who told us she was the unknowing middleman in the transaction.
Moore said she saw a job ad online for a financial assistant, applied, and got the job in April.
Her job was to file paperwork to create the LLC and do financial transactions, including converting money to bitcoin or cryptocurrency, Moore told WRTV.
When Moore confronted the company about the Meades and a refund, she said they cut off communication.
As for the Meades’ money, Moore says AutoMoto no longer has the $28,000 and says her bosses told her to convert it to cryptocurrency and send it to another account.
Moore said Chase bank froze the bank account for AutoMoto Enterprise LLC.
WRTV Investigates contacted Blackhawk Bank to see if they could help get the Meades’ money back.
“Whenever we are notified by a customer that they may have been a victim of fraud, we immediately take whatever action we can to recover funds,” said Todd James, President & CEO at Blackhawk Bancorp, Inc. said in an email to WRTV. “If funds were wired, we attempt to recall the wire. However, if the wired funds have been delivered, it is up to the receiving bank to take action and return them.”
James said if funds had already been posted to and withdrawn from an account at the receiving institution, the receiving institution would not have anything to return.
“We will exhaust all avenues available to us to recover funds for our customers who have been victims of fraud and have had situations where we’ve been successful getting at least some funds returned,” said James. “However, the more time that passes, the likelihood of any recovery declines. Fraudsters are well aware of the rules and typically move the funds as soon as they are posted to the beneficiary account.”
WRTV Investigates reached out to Chase Bank, which operates the Maryland account to which Terry Meade wired the money.
“JPMorgan Chase is sorry the Meade family were the victim of a scam,” said Stephanie Gostomski, Vice President for Regional Communications. “We credited funds according to the instructions we received from Blackhawk. By the time we received the recall request from Blackhawk, the funds had already been depleted. The Meade family will need to work with law enforcement and the wire recipient to attempt recovery.”
The Meades are out $28,000.
“Yes, it's gone,” said Terry. “I've got nothing to show for it, but it’s withdrawn from my bank."
The Meades have learned their lesson the hard way—never buy a big-ticket item without doing your research, including calling the dealer to talk to them about the product.
Terry and Debbra wish they had found the pictures of their RV on the New York dealership’s website sooner.
"If we had called the dealer before we wired the money, we would still have $28,000 in our pocket,” said Terry.
BBB Tips to Protect Yourself When Shopping Online
- Look for improper grammar and misspellings in emails and websites
- Look for websites that begin with HTTPS; the “s” means it’s more secure
- Look for websites that have a lock icon near the URL
- If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is
- Do an internet search for the company and “complaints” and “scam.”
Kara Kenney at WRTV first reported this story.