I admit it. I was scammed. I am a fairly savvy Internet user. People are trying to scam me all day long with emails, blog comments, Facebook ads, etc. I can usually spot them right away and send them to the garbage bin. Yet I let myself be scammed. So here’s how the scam works. I needed to renew my wife’s auto registration. So I entered Texas DMV into the Bing search bar. Below is the results of the search. (Click on the image for a larger view.)
The very first search result that came up was for DMV.org/Texas. So my first clue that something was amiss should have been that this was a sponsored ad. Would the state government really pay Google and Bing for search results? It had a .org website address. I clicked on the link and this is the website that came up.
Okay, this looks legit. I didn’t study the website in detail. I simply clicked on the icon pertaining to registration and title. But before I go any further, take a close look at the text at the top of the website. It’s separated from the main website to make it more difficult to spot. But there in plain print is the disclaimer that this is not a website owned and operated by any government agency. I didn’t see it. I should have. But then again this is a scam counting on their ability to pass themselves off as an official government site while at the same time cleverly placing the disclaimer in a way that most people simply miss. I missed it.
Once you click on that link they ask for some personal information, including your credit card. Since this was for my wife’s car, I called her in to pony up her credit card. She entered her credit card and the next screen was a download link for our Texas DMV guide. Wait, what? That’s right, I had just been scammed (correction my wife had been scammed with my assistance) into paying $20 dollars for a PDF telling me that I need proof of insurance and a valid inspection. At least that’s what I assume it would have told me if the download link would have worked. That’s right. Clicking on the download link brought up a webpage error. So not only were we scammed into paying for something that we didn’t need or want, but we didn’t even receive the download.
Them SOB’s. Sorry honey. I didn’t look as close as I should have. “You owe me $20,” was her response. And guess what? She’s right. So, after being scammed, I looked for a number to call to ask for a refund. Guess what? There is no number to call. Why would they want to provide a number for you to call and complain when they can provide you with a little contact form where your complaint and request for a refund can be ignored?
So what are my options? How about the Better Business Bureau? Surely they should know about this scam. But guess what? This site and other’s like it have great BBB ratings. How is that possible, you ask? Well first someone has to complain. Then the BBB has to go to the business and ask them to respond to the complaint. They write back that a disclaimer can be found on every page, if you know where to look. The BBB tells the person filing the complaint that they should have seen the disclaimer. The end result is the BBB files the complaint away as resolved and everything is honkey dorrey.
What about going to your bank and disputing the charge? Here again the website operators simply say that the disclaimer is clearly displayed on every page. End of case. They keep scamming people. After being scammed I tried looking for the real DMV info. I literally found dozens of links all pointing to DMV.com, DMV.org, and other similarly sounding legit sites. Here’s another one I came across.
These websites know that they can get away with it because of their disclaimer. “Sorry, but you should have paid more attention. We provide a valuable service.” Okay, your valuable service is to charge for something that is available for free online. Hey it’s only $20. You’ll get over it. So what can someone do?
Well, I happen to have this forum. I can let other people know about this scam. Hey they might even try sending me some legal appearing email threatening to sue me if I don’t take this post down. I say bring it on. It’s called free speech. And one other thing. Those ads that they’re paying Google and Bing to place at the top of the search results, they cost money. Every time someone clicks on one of their phishing ads, they have to pay. I had to click on those ads a number of times in order to write this post. I wanted to make sure of the accuracy of what I was writing. In fact, I think I may need to click on a couple more ads for additional research. Don’t believe me. Please do a search for the DMV in your state. Be sure to click on the sponsored ads to see what I’m talking about. Now I don’t want you to just go clicking like crazy if you, too, have been scammed. That would be wrong. That would be dishonest. But at a $1 a click, you may need to click, oh say, on twenty or so ads just to make sure.
Since writing this post there have been a few changes to the scam mentioned above. At least one of the sites mentioned, DMV.org, has changed their practices and now offers to file your registration on your behalf for a fee. They also changed the look of their site. They still place the disclaimer at the top of the page in a way that makes it hard to see. But now they decided to inundate visitors with text. It’s just another way of trying to confuse you into purchasing something you don’t want, don’t need, or even know you are purchasing. Some of the other sites like DMV.com are still selling guides.
Since writing this post in May of 2016 over 4,000 people have visited this page. nearly all of the search terms and phrases that lead people here use the word scam. The bottom line is they can try to convince you that you are getting something of value, but the truth is they are not offering anything that you can’t get for free by just visiting the proper DMV site in your state.