You can buy practically anything online, including used cars. But before you shell out any hard-earned cash, here’s a warning about scammers trying to sell cars they don’t have or own.
Here’s how the scam works: Criminals post ads on online auction and sales websites, like eBay Motors, for inexpensive used cars (that they don’t really own). They offer to chat online, share photos, and answer questions. They may even tell you the sale will go through a well-known retailer’s buyer protection program. Recently, sellers have been sending fake invoices that appear to come from eBay Motors and demanding payment in eBay gift cards. If you call the number on the invoice, the scammer pretends to work for eBay Motors. Trusting buyers have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year alone.
So how can you tell if an online car sale is fake?
- You find bad reviews online. Check out the seller by searching online for the person’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”
- Sellers try to rush the sale. Resist the pressure. Scammers use high-pressure sales tactics to get you to buy without thinking things through.
- They can’t or won’t meet in person or let you inspect the car. Scammers might have an excuse, like a job transfer, military deployment, or divorce, for why you can’t see them or the car. But experts agree that you should have an independent mechanic inspect a used car before you buy it.
- They want you to pay with gift cards or by wire transfer. If anyone tells you to pay that way, it’s a scam. Every time.
- The sellers demand more money after the sale for “shipping” or “transportation” costs.
- The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) doesn’t match the VIN for the car you’re interested in. A vehicle history report can help you spot such discrepancies.
For more tips, check out ftc.gov/usedcars and Online Auction Buyers. Want to avoid the latest rip-offs? Sign up for free consumer alerts from the FTC at ftc.gov/subscribe. If you spot a scam, report it at ftc.gov/complaint.