Common used car scams and how to avoid them

Scam warning signBuying or selling a second-hand car can be complicated, and with scammers waiting to take advantage of trusting motorists, buyers really do need to beware. We look at some of the most common second-hand car scams, how to spot them and how to make sure you don’t become a victim:

Match Making

Vehicle matching scams are as simple as they are effective and work by parting unsuspecting sellers from a hefty commission. The scam typically starts when someone selling a second-hand car gets a call from a ‘fixer’ who knows a ‘definite buyer’. The unsuspecting vendor is asked to hand-over a ‘finder’s fee’ to be put in-touch with the buyer, and you can guess what happens next; absolutely nothing. It’s one of the most common car sales scams costing hopeful vendors somewhere in the region of £100.

Virtual Vehicles

Brits love a bargain and it’s hard to resist the temptation of a cheaper car from somewhere on the continent. However, if you are buying a vehicle from overseas you need to tread very carefully indeed as there’s plenty of scope for scamming. While the finer points of the scam vary, the bare bones involve a ghost car or a phantom shipping agency, which vanish into thin air as soon as you hand-over your money. Paper vehicle scams often use third party escrow services to handle payments which should set alarm bells ringing.

Deposit Thieves

It may be one of the oldest tricks in the book, but the ‘rental scam’ still has plenty of gas left in the tank. The scammers rent a car for the day and sometimes a house to complete the picture. They then see how many unsuspecting customers they can con out of a deposit before returning the rental vehicle. Always check the log book to confirm vehicle ownership and registered address.

Cloned Cars

Dressing up stolen cars to hide their identity, and pass them off as other vehicles that are legally on the road, is surprisingly straightforward and can be as simple as changing the number plates. Changing the Vehicle Identification Number is a much more difficult proposition so start by checking the log book.

Ownership Omission

Bearing in mind that 25% of cars are covered by a finance plan (most commonly PCP or hire purchase) it’s easy to see how second-hand car deals can turn sour. When it comes to ‘financed’ cars it’s important to understand that the vehicle is often owned by the financial provider, rather than whoever happens to be holding the keys, and any outstanding monies owed should be paid directly to the finance company. Such scams can sometimes be ‘honest mistakes’ made by ill-informed owners, but it’s fertile territory for scammers.

Fact Finding

Buying or selling a car inevitably involves some paperwork, but be wary of fraudsters fishing for personal information which could be used to steal your identity or access your bank account.

How to spot and stop a second-hand car scam

Too Good to be True It’s an age-old saying that’s stood the test of time for a very good reason. These days there are plenty of online tools that can quickly calculate the accurate market value of a second-hand vehicle (such as Parkers or Auto Trader) and they are freely available to both seller and buyer.

Hidden History Before you hand over any payment; it’s a good idea to do some digging into the vehicle’s past. Online HPI checks are a quick and affordable way to check a car’s history, covering everything from: whether the car has been written-off or stolen to whether there’s any outstanding finance owed.

Pressure Test If the seller is putting you under pressure, even to put down a deposit, walk away and take your business elsewhere.

Trading Places If you are buying privately only hand over payment at the address registered in the logbook and not an anonymous carpark.

Identity Crisis If you only carry out one check make sure that the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the car is the same as on the logbook. The VIN is a unique 17 character code that can be commonly found where the dash meets the windscreen on the driver’s side (best viewed from outside the vehicle) or on the doorpost.

Cold Calling Be wary of buyers approaching you (often on someone else’s behalf) and offering to pay over the odds.

Sight Unseen It might sound like a ‘no brainer’ but it’s essential to see the vehicle and take it for a test drive.



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