Commissioner of Customs Major Richard Reese is warning would-be car purchasers to be wary of shady middlemen who have been fleecing individuals of millions of dollars on the premise that they are importing the car of their choice from overseas at a cheaper cost.
The Customs boss said that the Jamaica Customs Agency had noticed a spike in this type of illicit activity.
"A number of individuals have been scammed in their attempt to purchase and import them (vehicles) into the island," Reese told The Gleaner.
"It is a major scam. In the worst-case scenario, the customer loses everything, or the vehicle is damaged and it is forfeited, or the middleman falsifies the invoice and the dealer is breached and has to pay a penalty, which can be up to three times the duty or value, whichever is higher," explained Reese.
The scam is operated by a con man who solicits a customer by offering a vehicle for sale that was found on the Internet.
After the customer views the vehicle online and pays a deposit, the con man either doesn't pay the supplier in full or doesn't pay for the repairs if the vehicle is damaged.
The con man also approaches a used-car dealer to facilitate the clearing of the vehicle when it reaches the wharf.
"If the supplier is not paid in full, the supplier doesn't provide the requisite documents and the vehicles are left on the wharf and Customs has to auction them," said Reese.
He explained that after the vehicle is auctioned, duties, taxes, and fees outstanding to the Government are deducted first, then Customs charges and freight are subtracted and the rest goes to the importer or used-car dealer facilitating the importation.
"At no time does the customer have any standing with Customs ... they are actually powerless," he explained.
Reese, who was appointed commissioner of Customs in May 2012, revealed that the Customs agency has uncovered 15 such cases since he became Customs boss.
He also reminded Jamaicans that the Customs agency does not allow the importation of damaged vehicles.