Consumers claim they bought cars with hidden damage from dealer listing vehicles as private seller

ST. CLOUD, Fla. — Action 9 has a warning about used car dealers who pose as private sellers online, unloading risky vehicles without any consumer protections.

Eric Hires saw a classic 1969 F-100 Ford pickup truck for sale. It cost under $10,000 and was in good condition. At least, that’s what Hires thought.

“He said there was not a speck of rust and I was thrilled by that,” Hires said.

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Hires found the truck on eBay, listed by private sellers in St. Cloud. The sellers were an older couple with nine grandkids. After talking to the husband, Robert Foster, by phone, Hires was convinced

“He reminded me of my grandfather, and I thought, ‘yeah, I can trust him,' and went on to make a deal with him,” Hires said.

Hires lives in St. Augustine. He paid $8,000 through PayPal, and the Fosters had the F-100 truck delivered to his home.

Within 48 hours of getting the vehicle, Hires noticed defects that the new paint job was not able to conceal. He said he felt cheated. "Rusted to hell, and they basically put lipstick on a pig.”

Hires took the truck to a local repair shop. Action 9 obtained video of the mechanic inspecting the damage.

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“The mechanic thought it was very unsafe to be driving, and in his opinion the truck was worth about $1,000,” Hires said.

Hires called Foster but said he couldn’t get a response. “That’s when he got very elusive. He wouldn’t return calls.”

Suspecting he had been misled by a backyard dealer, Hires contacted Action 9.

It turns out Robert Foster, the seller of the truck, is really a Florida-licensed used car dealer. His dealership, Dream Classics, has a St. Cloud address with the state.

Todd Ulrich went to the location and spoke with the manager of a different business. He told Ulrich he had never heard of Foster or his dealership.

Action 9 found Foster had listed 10 other vehicles for sale online, and there was no mention of a dealership.

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The Better Business Bureau has reviews from two customers who say they were also cheated.

Florida and federal consumer regulations require full disclosure from dealers, like a Federal Trade Commission buyer’s guide, including warranty and any salvage history.

Hires says he never received those with his transaction. “He’s [Foster] absolutely a used car salesman and flipper, and he’s very good at it.”

Hires sent a complaint to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The agency could not comment on the specific complaint but told Ulrich that anyone selling more than three vehicles per year is considered a dealer, and all consumer disclosures are required.

Hires sued Foster in small claims court.

“We don’t want other people to go through what we went through,” Hires said.

You can find real buys from private sellers. Just make sure it’s not a hidden dealership. Ask to see registration and insurance information, which can help verify it’s a private sale.

In an email to Action 9, Foster called the allegations propaganda. He denied doing anything wrong, and said his case would prevail in court.

Robert Foster response:

Mr. Foster is currently involved in litigation with regards to this matter and anticipates a favorable outcome once the actual facts are determined by the Court. Currently, Mr. Foster denies any allegations of impropriety and feels that this is a blatant attempt promote propaganda against a law-abiding citizen. These types of personal attacks on the eve of a court case are a blatant disregard for our judicial process.

Todd Ulrich, WFTV.com

I am WFTV's Action 9 Reporter.