Online used-car classified sites are growing in popularity as consumer confidence in the concept of buying a car online steadily improves. Perhaps inevitably, criminal elements from overseas are becoming switched on to the opportunity to make a fast and easy buck, using online classifieds to ‘sell’ cars that don’t exist. Motor retailers looking for deals online are among the growing tally of victims.
The temptation to take a risk can be overwhelming, especially for those who see their dream motor advertised through a trusted site at a price that’s well below market value.
The scam is disturbingly simple to execute. When the prospective buyer contacts the seller, he or she is notified that the car is outside the country but the car will be shipped to their nearest port upon receipt of payment into a secure account. Once the money is transferred, the seller breaks contact. The car is never delivered and the buyer never sees his or her cash again.
It sometimes turns out that the secure account operator – with credible history as a trader – exists but the website has been hijacked by the fraudster. And the car? That often also appears genuine, but that’s because it’s registered to a totally different person and the picture has been ripped from the web.
There are precautions you can take to protect yourself online, such a carrying out research or asking the seller tough, objective questions, but in many of these overseas fraud cases the seller and vehicle (including vehicle identification numbers) can appear legitimate. The ‘seller’, only too keen to help, instills confidence in the victim.
There are numerous challenges in these types of cases, such as multi-jurisdictional policing and legal issues. The UK police and the Government’s online fraud centre, Action Fraud, are unable to offer any kind of restitution.
So, what can you do to avoid falling victim? The best advice is to never buy a car that you haven’t seen in the metal of course, but the next time you fancy a bit of online shopping we recommend the following:
- Don’t hand over your hard-earned cash to someone you have never met for a vehicle you have not seen, and cannot see, prior to monies being handed over.
- Always get a vehicle history check for peace of mind.
- Always try to deal locally when buying a car, and avoid someone who is unable or unwilling to meet you face-to-face
- Never trust a buyer who says that a transaction is guaranteed by eBay or PayPal, or other online marketplaces, as they explicitly do not guarantee that people using their services are legitimate
- Beware of sellers who want to wrap up a transaction quickly. Scammers want to get your money before you have time to apply some clear, dispassionate thinking.
- If the seller is unwilling to make phone contact or answer questions about their location or the location of the car in question, it is more likely to be a scam
- Always trust your gut instinct but ultimately you should apply logic and common sense. Would you price your vehicle well below the standard market value and then at additional expense offer to ship it overseas at the risk the buyer doesn’t like it?
The age-old notion of ‘buyer beware’ applies now more than ever in the age of web-enabled criminality.