Online Car Buying Scams: What To Look Out For and How To Avoid Them

Online car buying is convenient and time-saving. You don’t have to meet different salespeople to buy your dream car. Instead, you simply open an online car-selling marketplace or auction website, shop for your desired vehicle, check its specs, and offer a fair price. Undoubtedly, most private sales are safe and offer positive experiences. 

However, car buyers should consider a few things to online car buying scams — even if they are rare. This post discusses the most notable online car-buying frauds to help you save thousands of dollars. So let’s check them out…

Don’t Worry — Most Private Party Car Sales Are Great

When buying or selling cars, online private-party dealing is usually reliable. It doesn’t involve traveling to different locations to search for your car. Instead, you go online, find a car, and coordinate pickup or get it delivered. Plus, you’re not limited by time or schedules since online marketplaces are open 24/7.

Online private party sales offer you enough room to decide without any pressure. But make sure you’re only buying from reputable marketplaces or auction sites, such as:

Online car buying scams are more prevalent when you buy vehicles from an unknown or uncredible sites. If you’re buying a car for the first time, be wary of websites that do not have a good and long track record of reliability.

Rare Online Car Buying Scams To Be Aware Of

Refusal To Let You Inspect the Vehicle in Person

Most buyers prefer online car buying since it doesn’t include in-person interactions. But in some instances, such as vehicle inspection, you may need to contact the seller to let you physically inspect the vehicle. 

When buying a car, be sure to check its cosmetic details, maintenance history, mechanical condition, and interior condition. After all, you’re investing thousands of dollars, so you must be 100% confident in your purchase decision. 

While most private sellers facilitate this process, others may hesitate and insist you take their word for the car. That’s a major red flag. An honest seller never refuses to meet in person as they have nothing to hide. 

So, in case you encounter a dubious seller who seems reluctant to meet you in person, it’s better to drop the idea of buying from them. You can still find your dream car from a reputable seller. 

False Advertisements

Some bogus car sellers may advertise vehicles they don’t actually own. Buyers may notice these fake car ads on different online platforms — the seller usually includes the actual car pictures that match its description to deceive the buyer. 

Not only that, but the ad may also include legitimate contact details, such as phone number or email address. To avoid this scam, you should always ask for more details about the vehicle from the seller. This includes asking for the vehicle identification number (VIN), ownership history, and other crucial information. If the seller refuses or hesitates, it might be wise to choose another vehicle and seller.. 

Identity Theft

Sometimes, the scammer won’t be concerned about the type of vehicle you want. Instead, they want to steal your identity to access your sensitive information. These include your Social Security number, bank account numbers, car maintenance records, etc. 

So, you must be careful whenever a seller asks for your personal information. Remember, no legitimate seller asks for Paypal info, credit card details, date of birth, or driver’s license upfront. Unless you have reached the paperwork stage, never provide such details to a seller. Say no and move on. 

Requesting Wire Transfer Payments

Some sellers may also practice illegal wire transfer scams. Therefore, whenever you encounter a private seller asking for wire transfer payments, you should politely say no and search for another seller. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that every seller asking for wire transfer payments is a fraud. It’s just a safe practice to say no to such offers. Why? Because it’s almost impossible to retrieve your money once it reaches the seller through a wire transfer. In case the deal turns out to be a scam, it will be difficult for you to get your money back.

When buying a car online, some sellers may also ask you to transfer a small amount or place a down payment to inspect the car. Never agree to these schemes, refuse politely, and look for a car from a trustworthy seller. 

Requesting Gift Card Payments

Some sellers may request you to buy the car through gift cards. Not only does it practically sound ridiculous, but it’s also a key indicator that the scammer only wants cash cards. When they get the gift cards, they steal the numbers written on them and sell them for more money online. 

“Must Sell Now” Sale Prices

False car advertisements may also have an attractive headline for discount or sale prices. Like typical false ads, these advertisements also have actual pictures of the cars that the seller doesn’t own or possess. The unique part about them is the “must sell now” tag. 

The seller claims to sell their vehicles at sale prices only to sell them quickly. They give different reasons for this strategy to convince the buyers. Sometimes they say that the car belonged to their deceased loved one. Other times, they may claim that they’re having a divorce or have been called for military deployment. 

Such sellers ask the buyers for a certain amount or partial payment in advance. Unfortunately, many buyers fall for this scam and pay for their dream car at a steep price. But once the money is transferred, the fraudulent seller disappears instantly.  

These scams became so prevalent from 2014 to 2017 that the FBI had to release a longstanding warning for their lookout. This scam cost car buyers more than $50 million in total. 

Thus, always avoid such traps and look for the car on credible online marketplaces. Any deal that seems too good to be true is likely a scam. Also, sellers who ask for upfront payments without meeting you or sealing the deal are surely scammers. 

Title Washing

Title washing is a type of title fraud. It includes concealing or erasing a vehicle’s salvage history, including any prior accidents or repairs the car went through. The scammer removes the salvage brandings from the vehicle’s title that insurance companies see as a total loss after unexpected events, like a flood or accident. 

Title washing is done by sending salvage vehicles to the state where the manufacturer’s brand isn’t known. When the new place or state issues a title for the vehicle, the previous salvage branding disappears. If it doesn’t work in the first state, the seller may transfer the car to another. 

Therefore, you won’t know where the car has been or if it is stolen or illegal. But fortunately, identifying a title-washing scam is relatively easy since no one can remove the computer records. 

All you have to do is run a VIN check on the car on reputable websites like Carfax and AutoCheck. You will have a detailed report about the vehicle’s salvage status within a few minutes. 

Odometer Tampering

Odometer tampering is a malpractice that some car sellers attempt. The odometer measures the miles a vehicle has driven (mileage). The more miles the device shows, the lesser a car’s value may get. However, some scammers may misrepresent the car’s mileage to the buyers through fake reports. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), scammers succeed in selling about 450,000 cars with wrong odometer readings every year. It results in an annual cumulative loss of $1 billion, making odometer tampering one of the most common scams.

While many fraudsters reset the actual odometer reading, others try to alter it illegally. To avoid all types of odometer tampering, you must try inspecting the vehicle’s title closely. The mentioned mileage must match the odometer reading. If the mileage seems obscured, there might be something wrong.

You can also take the car for a test drive and see whether the odometer correctly records the miles. For evidence, you can look up the VIN report of the car on CarFax or AutoCheck. It includes the total mileage of the car. If the mentioned mileage seems less than its wear and tear, walk away as it’s probably an online car-buying scam. 

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