The top scams to avoid when buying a car online

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In a digital age that thrives on convenience and limitless connectivity, the process of buying a car has undergone a transformation. Online platforms have revolutionised the way we shop for vehicles, allowing us to browse through an extensive array of options from the comfort of our homes. 
However, with this convenience comes a set of risks and challenges, as the virtual realm has also become a breeding ground for scams and deceit…
In this blog we will explore the different type of online car selling scams and how to avoid them, including: 

  • Fake ads
  • Title washing
  • Clocked cars
  • Curb stoning
  • VIN cloning 
  • Lowballing
  • What to do if you’ve been a victim of a scam

If you're looking for a completely safe way to sell your car, you should take a look at our easy valuation tool. You’ll get a fast and competitive quote from one of our experts and you have plenty of time to decide whether you want to accept it. We even come and collect your car when it suits you best!

The most common scams and how to avoid them

Whether you’re an experienced online shopper or new to buying cars online, this comprehensive exposé will help you make informed decisions and successfully find the perfect vehicle.

Fake ads

A prevalent and deceptive online car-buying scam involves fake ads that promise unbelievable deals. These fraudulent listings use stolen photos, fictitious descriptions, and unrealistically low prices to entice unsuspecting buyers.

Scammers often concoct elaborate stories, explaining the low prices as urgent sales due to relocation. Once interested, they demand upfront payment or personal information, leaving buyers at risk of financial loss and identity theft.

Here are some warning signs to watch out for that can help you identify fake ads when buying a car online:

  • Unbelievable Deals: If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers use unrealistically low prices to attract buyers' attention and create a sense of urgency.

  • Poor Grammar and Spelling: Many fake ads contain poorly written descriptions, grammar mistakes, and spelling errors. This can be a sign that the ad is not genuine.

  • Stolen Photos: If the photos of the car look too polished or professional, they might have been stolen from legitimate listings or sources.

  • Lack of Contact Information: Scammers often avoid giving out direct contact information. They might insist on communicating through email or messaging platforms, making it difficult to establish their legitimacy

  • Pressure to Act Quickly: Scammers use high-pressure tactics to rush you into making a decision without proper consideration. They might claim that other buyers are interested or that the deal is time-sensitive.

  • Requests for Upfront Payment: Be cautious if the seller demands upfront payment before allowing you to inspect the car in person. Legitimate sellers typically allow for some form of verification before payment.

  • Refusal to Meet in Person: If the seller consistently avoids meeting face-to-face or providing verifiable details about their location, it's a red flag.

Title washing

The title washing scam is a ploy that preys on unsuspecting online car buyers. In this scheme, scammers manipulate vehicle titles to conceal crucial information about a car's history, such as salvage status or flood damage.

By presenting altered documents and misleading descriptions, they create a façade of a clean title. Unaware buyers may be lured into purchasing these vehicles, only to later discover hidden problems that were deliberately masked during the transaction.

Protecting yourself from this scam involves research, thorough inspections, and a keen eye for inconsistencies. By arming yourself with knowledge, you can avoid the pitfalls of title washing and make informed decisions in your online car buying journey.

To protect yourself from falling victim to the title washing scam when purchasing a car online:

  • Comprehensive Research: Thoroughly research the vehicle's history by obtaining a reliable vehicle history report from reputable sources.

  • Inspect the Vehicle: Whenever possible, inspect the car in person or enlist a trusted mechanic to perform a thorough examination.

  • Verify Documentation: Independently verify all documents provided by the seller, including the title and vehicle history report.

  • Question Inconsistencies: Be cautious of discrepancies between the vehicle's description, documentation, and history. Ask for clarification if something seems off

  • Avoid Rushed Decisions: Don't let high-pressure tactics force you into making quick decisions. Take your time to make an informed choice.

  • Use Reputable Platforms: Choose well-known and trusted online marketplaces for your car search. These platforms often have measures in place to help prevent scams.

Curb stoning

This involves individuals posing as private sellers, while in reality, they are unlicensed dealers seeking to offload their problematic vehicles. These sellers often list multiple vehicles for sale under the guise of personal ownership, masking the fact that they lack the proper licensing and accountability of legitimate dealerships.

Curbstoners frequently downplay issues, manipulate vehicle histories, and omit crucial information, putting unsuspecting buyers at risk of purchasing unreliable or unsafe vehicles.

To safeguard yourself from curbstoning, it's essential to verify the seller's credentials, research the vehicle's history, and enlist the expertise of professionals before making any online car purchase.

  • Verify Seller Information: Check the contact information provided by the seller against official records. If the same phone number or name appears in multiple listings, it might be a sign of curb stoning.

  • Multiple Listings: Be cautious of sellers who list multiple vehicles for sale. Legitimate private sellers typically don't have an inventory of cars to sell.

  • Inconsistent Vehicle History: Obtain a vehicle history report from reputable sources. If the vehicle's history seems inconsistent or is being withheld, it could be a red flag.

  • Ownership Documents: Ask the seller to provide documentation proving ownership, such as the title or registration. Curbstoners might struggle to provide legitimate ownership documents.

  • Location of Sale: Be wary if the seller insists on meeting you in public places or changing meeting locations. This might indicate an attempt to avoid being linked to a specific address.

  • Unlicensed Dealers: Research the licensing requirements for car dealerships in your area. If the seller is consistently selling cars and doesn't have the proper licence, it's a sign of curbstoning. 

Clocked cars

This fraudulent practice is employed to inflate a used car's perceived value and sell it at an unjustified higher price.

Scammers achieve this by tampering with the odometer reading, either electronically or mechanically, making a high-mileage car appear as if it has significantly fewer miles.

Unwitting buyers who rely on this false mileage information may end up paying more for a vehicle that is older and potentially more worn than they believe. Vigilance, thorough vehicle history checks, and purchasing from reputable sources are crucial to avoiding the pitfalls of the clocked car scam and making informed buying decisions.

  • Check Maintenance Records: Compare the mileage listed on the current odometer with maintenance and repair records. Inconsistencies could indicate potential tampering.

  • Physical Wear and Tear: Look for signs of wear and tear that seem inconsistent with the mileage shown. High mileage typically corresponds with more wear on the interior, seats, pedals, and steering wheel.

  • Mismatched Condition: If the car's overall condition (interior, exterior, and engine) seems remarkably well-preserved for its supposed mileage, it might be a red flag.

  • Digital Dashboard: Be cautious of cars with digital dashboards that show unusually low mileage for their age. Digital displays are easier to manipulate.

  • Erratic Mileage Jumps: Examine the car's history for instances where the recorded mileage suddenly jumps up or down significantly. This might indicate odometer rollback.

VIN Cloning

VIN cloning is a sophisticated scheme that involves copying a legitimate vehicle's Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and using it to mask the true identity of a stolen or salvaged vehicle. Scammers acquire a legitimate VIN from a similar make and model, often from a legally registered car.

They then attach this stolen identity to the stolen or salvaged vehicle, creating the illusion that it's a legitimate, clean-title vehicle.

This deceptive practice can deceive buyers, law enforcement, and even vehicle history databases, as the cloned VIN provides a clean history record. Unaware buyers may inadvertently purchase stolen or unsafe vehicles, while the scammers profit from the sale.

To protect yourself, always verify the VIN on the car's dashboard with other locations on the vehicle and check the vehicle's history through reputable sources. Vigilance is essential to prevent falling victim to this complex form of auto fraud.

  • Check for Consistency: Verify that the VIN on the dashboard matches the VIN in other locations on the vehicle, such as the door jamb, engine bay, and vehicle frame. Inconsistent VINs could indicate cloning.

  • Inspect for Altered VIN: Look for signs of tampering around the VIN area. Scratches, mismatched fonts, or other irregularities may suggest that the VIN has been altered.

  • Analyse Documentation: Review the vehicle's title, registration, and any available service records. Inconsistent or mismatched information could be a sign of cloning.

  • Vehicle History Report: Obtain a vehicle history report from a reliable source to check for inconsistencies in mileage, ownership, or accident history.

  • Inspect for Uniform Wear: Genuine vehicles typically show uniform wear and tear. Inconsistent wear or signs of parts replacement could indicate that the vehicle is not what it seems.

Lowballing

It is also worth talking about online car selling, as this process is equally at risk of scams. Lowballing scams are deceptive tactics used by potential buyers to exploit sellers and secure a vehicle at an unrealistically low price. Scammers deliberately make offers well below the market value of the car, often citing reasons such as minor flaws or exaggerated depreciation.

Once the seller receives a lowball offer, they might engage in negotiations with the hope of eventually reaching a more reasonable price. However, scammers could then introduce new conditions, hidden fees, or unexpected charges that substantially increase the final price.

This manipulation preys on the seller's desire to make a sale and encourages them to accept terms they wouldn't have otherwise considered.

To protect yourself from lowballing scams when selling a car online:

  • Know the Market: Research the current market value of your car to have a clear understanding of what a fair asking price should be.
  • Set a Bottom Line: Determine the lowest price you're willing to accept for the car and be prepared to stick to it during negotiations.
  • Question Changes: If the buyer suddenly changes the terms of the offer or introduces new fees, ask for a detailed explanation.
  • Stay Calm: Don't let pressure or urgency push you into accepting unfavourable terms. Take your time to evaluate the offer.
  • Use Trusted Platforms: Sell through reputable online platforms that have measures in place to deter scammers and promote fair transactions.
  • Avoid Pushy Buyers: If the potential buyer becomes overly aggressive, insists on immediate action, or uses high-pressure tactics, consider this a red flag.

What should you do if you have been a victim of an online car selling scam?

If you find yourself falling victim to an online car selling scam, swift action is crucial to mitigate the damage and address the situation. 

  • First and foremost, cease all further communication with the scammer and discontinue any transactions or payments. 

  • Secondly, gather all documentation, including messages, emails, transaction records, and any other evidence related to the scam. This will be vital for reporting the incident to both your local law enforcement agency and relevant online platforms where the scam took place. 

  • Contact your bank or financial institution immediately to halt any unauthorised payments or transactions. If your personal information has been compromised, take steps to secure your accounts and identity, such as changing passwords and monitoring your credit report. 

  • Lastly, share your experience with family, friends, and on online forums to help others avoid falling victim to similar scams. The key is to act swiftly, report the incident to the appropriate authorities, and take measures to protect yourself from further harm.

Sell your car the safe way with Sell 2 Swansway

If you are looking to sell your current car online, be sure to be equally as diligent as if you were buying. When you sell your car to Sell 2 Swansway, you get a fast and fair car valuation from our experts, you have 7 pressure-free days to mull over accepting our offer, and we even come and collect your car at a time and place that suits you. Join the rest of our happy sellers now. 

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Holly Harris

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