Online car buying is easy but does it expose consumers to crooks?

ATLANTA — Buying a car online has never been easier. But are companies that tout hassle-free shopping making it easier for crooks to rip you off?

For more than a year, a Forsyth County woman has been fighting to undo a car sale that happened with just a few keystrokes.

In May 2020, Corey Bennett passed a Carvana credit check to get a loan for a 2018 Ford Mustang.

To prove his identity, the buyer sent Carvana a selfie with their Georgia driver’s license. The man picked up his new car at a Carvana location in Atlanta, signed a car title application, and drove away.

When the real Corey Bennett received a car tag for a Ford Mustang in her mailbox, she thought it was a mistake that would be easy to fix.

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She’d never logged into Carvana’s website and wasn’t even car shopping.

After a trip to the tag office and several phone calls with Carvana, she learned identity thieves purchased the Mustang in her name.

“It was my address, my name, everything, so that was the scariest part, I think,” Bennett said.

She said the driver’s license in the selfie Carvana used to verify the thief’s identity is almost identical to hers, except the “M” for male and the picture.

“I’m not sure what a selfie with a false identification driver’s license would prove to anybody to be somebody’s ID. It’s just shocking to me.”

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Bennett doesn’t know where the car is, but there’s still a $30,000 loan in her name a year and a half later. She said her calls to Carvana for help are unanswered.

“There was no solution. There was no resolution. They never found the person who did this,” Bennett said.

Channel 2 Action News repeatedly wrote to Carvana requesting an interview on Bennett’s situation and the company’s security measures, with no response.

Fraud specialist Barry Banister investigates thefts like these for traditional car dealerships across Georgia. He said car thieves using fake IDs is one of the top forms of fraud he sees, but traditional car dealership employees are now trained to look for warning signs while selling a car in person.

They look for people buying all the extras and signatures that don’t match.

“If they rush through the process, all they want to do is sell the car, send somebody out and drop it off, put it in somebody else’s hands, it’s done, it’s done,” Banister said.

In Bennett’s case, the signature on the Georgia driver’s license looks nothing like the signature on the car title application.

Banister said it’s harder to spot a crook when they’re shopping online. “It can be 90 days before anybody is aware,” he said.

Last month, Jim Ellis at Chevrolet called Chamblee police when Michael Childrey allegedly tried to use a fake Florida ID to buy a Corvette. Police came and arrested him on the spot after employees noticed red flags.

But the Mustang purchased by the man impersonating Bennett has never been recovered.

The man has never been identified, and the Forsyth Sheriff’s Office says their investigation is at a standstill because Carvana has never reported the car stolen.

Carvana did write a letter to the Georgia Department of Driver Services asking that Bennett be released of liability for the stolen Mustang because she was a victim of identity theft. But the more than $30,000 loan for the car is still open on her credit report.

While she’s not being dinged for the nonpayment, she fears the loan will impact her ability to buy a car or house in the future.

“With my credit being frozen, that’s a constant fear. Not being able to move forward with things I want to do with myself,” Bennett said. “I think it’s really up to these big businesses and corporations to do their part.”

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