SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – Crooks are constantly coming up with new ways to con people out of their hard-earned money. The Better Business Bureau is now warning consumers of a scheme tied to a phony online boat sales company that claims to be headquartered in Sarasota.
The BBB says it conducted an investigation following recent consumer complaints and found the people behind Talon Marine Co. are operating a scheme in which they sell boats that do not exist online.
The imposters are posting as a legitimate boat sales company that operated in Sarasota for decades before closing down in 2010.
“They stole their address, they stole their identity and they created a website to make it look like they were that business selling boats online when this business did not exist,” Bryan Oglesby with the BBB said. “Scammers can operate just like legitimate companies, they can advertise on social media platforms, they can advertise at the top of search agents. This particular company was advertising on online boat sales platforms, so scammers can present themselves as legitimate companies.”
The website that has since been taken down claimed the business was in operation for 30 years. Boats on the site ranged from $20,000 to $55,000. The BBB found the phone website was created in September 2020 and the boat photos were pulled from listings out of Australia.
Rian Mondriaan owns a boat repair business next door to what was listed as an address for Talon Marine. Over the last several months, he says he’s watched countless people show up to check out boats only to be disappointed by the truth.
He reported the scheme to local authorities, but for some of the victims, it was too late.
“We have had trucks show up to pick the boat up to ship to Australia, no boat. So we had to call the shipping agent and say ‘hey, the boat doesn’t exist.’ He then had to inform his customer that he just wired close to $60,000 for something that didn’t exist,” said Mondriaan.
In addition to the visits, the calls have been constant.
“We probably had about 50 or 60 people stop by that actually came up throughout the height of it. Between the four businesses out here here that we’re getting phone calls, we were getting four to five a day each,” Mondriaan explained. “People will just keep calling, ‘hey, we are trying to find this boat’ or ‘hey we are looking for this guy’ and we are like ‘no, there is nobody here by that name, there is no business here by that name, and there is no boats for sale.'”
The BBB has tips to avoid losing money during online boat purchases:
- Do not pay with a wire transfer.
- Schemers usually avoid payment by check, credit card or other traceable methods. Pay by credit card whenever possible in case you need to challenge the payment.
- Use a domain registration website like whois.com/
- Avoid any transporter or broker that does not prominently display its MC Docket number on its website.
- Shipping companies are required to register with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and have and post a U.S. DOT Motor Carrier Number (MC Docket) to operate in the United States. The company should post the number on its website and provide it over the phone if asked. Verify the company at the Department of Transportation’s SAFER website.
- Do not trust photos as they can be easily copied from the internet.
- Do a reverse image search to see if a photo has been misappropriated from another website.
- Whenever possible, insist on meeting the seller and inspecting the boat before releasing any money.
- Check the boat’s book value with legitimate valuation tools.
- Schemers often lure buyers with prices that are a fraction of the boat’s book price so buyers will act quickly. Deals that seem too good to be true usually are.
- Check BBB.org to see a company’s business profile, if they have one, and also be sure to review BBB Scam Tracker which can provide additional information.
- Find the contact information listed on the company’s website.
- If an address is provided, a search on Google Maps may show if the location appears to be valid. If a phone number is listed, make a quick call to determine if it’s a working number or even affiliated with the company.
You can find more tips for buying boats online on the BBB’s website.