Online Auto Sales Scams

An online listing for a used car from a private seller can be tempting, especially when the price is right, but too many people fall victim to scams involving these transactions. There are a variety of warning signs.

First, look at the price of the car. Compare the asking price to a trusted source for used car values. If there’s a huge difference, stay away. $1,000 for a car that retails for $4,000 is a bad sign.

Next, a seller’s refusal to let you see or test-drive the car in person is a huge red flag. Of course, there is still the matter of a pandemic to think about, and a lot of scammers have used this very reason for not allowing potential victims to see the vehicle, but a list of excuses as to why you must purchase the car sight-unseen should send up some signals.

On a similar note, beware of ANY convoluted story from a seller, or urgency. “I need to sell this car right away because my (whomever) did this or that and I have to go to (someplace) to work on (something) or my (whatever) is going to (whatever).” You don’t NEED all that information, and no legitimate seller should be constructing a narrative around the car other than, “How much are you willing to pay for it, do I agree to that price, and when are you going to pay for it?” If the seller claims to be overseas, in the military, or working in an oil field, stop all communication. These are some of the most common scam setups (also popular in online romance schemes).

Speaking of payments, if you’re looking at a car on an online service such as eBay Motors, do not allow a seller to communicate or do any business outside of that system (such as by email or text message). Scammers will do this to make the transaction untraceable. Some will go as far as setting up a fake website that mimics eBay in order to gain your trust, then attempt to convince you to pay with gift cards or by wire transfer. As with every other case, payment by these non-traceable, non-reversible methods is a sure sign of trouble.