How to Avoid Scams When Buying a Car Online

All Americans are filthy rich and deserve to be scammed out of thousands of dollars.

Scammers living in some Eastern European and African nations seem to believe that, and are targeting a specific group of Americans with money to burn: car buyers.

Millions of people successfully navigate the car-buying maze every year, but a small percentage are scammed out of their money after finding a “deal” that seems too good to be true.

For some reason people tend to lose their common sense when they become emotionally attached to a particular car or get offered a good deal. That’s why scammers specifically target online car shoppers, and why you need to be careful. Below are two popular scams and six ways you can avoid them.

In one scam, you might place a low bid in an online car auction, then receive an e-mail informing you that yours was the winning bid. Of course, it wasn’t; a con artist merely captured your e-mail address and contacted you directly about a car that actually exists, but was being sold by an unsuspecting third party.

After agreeing on a price, you will be asked to send money to a supposedly secure escrow site through a wire service. The site will have a legitimate-sounding name, but once the funds are transferred, the money will be withdrawn, the account closed and the trail erased.

Another scam aimed at buyers is newer and more complex. The New York Times featured a story about a con artists’ website pretending to represent the legitimate American Auto Sales in Memphis. The fake site featured a real link to CarFax and the real dealer’s mailing address.

The fake site offered appealing deals and communicated only through e-mail, directing buyers to wire money to individual people at the “dealer.” The Times article says,

Mike Stahly of Potterville, Mich., said he lost about $3,000. He said he has never been scammed before and while he was a little skeptical of the low price, he was reassured because of the link to the real dealership, which he checked out with the Better Business Bureau in addition to calling nearby businesses.

Evidently, the Memphis Better Business Bureau received about 1,500 complaints from people who lost about $2,000 each. That’s at least a $3 million payday for the scammers, so you can bet they will strike again!

Avoiding scams like these seems like it should be easy enough, but hoping for a good deal can cloud your better judgment. To protect yourself, always follow these guidelines when buying a car online:

  1. Browse respected and established used car listings, such as our own DealFinder, where you can contact the seller directly.
  2. Insist on speaking with someone and telling him or her that you need to see the car in person before you will send any money.
  3. Since many of these scams originate in countries where English is not generally spoken, watch for e-mails that are written in severely broken English using poor grammar and odd words.
  4. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Nobody sells a 2004 Nissan Murano in perfect condition with a clear title for $3,000.
  5. If you decide to use an escrow service, research and use one of your choice, especially if the seller tries to insist that you use a specific service.
  6. Most important of all, don’t ever wire money to a stranger to buy a car you’ve never seen. That stranger is probably sitting in a country with poor extradition to the U.S., waiting for a Western Union agent to hand over your cash.

We know there are many more used-car scams out there – please share any you happen to come across or have experienced.


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Used Nissan Murano

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