How to Avoid Scams When Buying a Car Online

Buying a vehicle online from the convenience of your living room with a few easy clicks has its rewards, but it also includes some danger. As with much of the internet world, frauds have come into the area. Be aware of frequent scams so you don’t lose cash during the process of buying a new automobile.

Common online automobile purchasing scams

The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) provides some suggestions regarding online auto transactions —but there are a few frequent frauds to watch out for while looking online for a car.

Identity theft

Some fraudsters are not only attempting to cheat you out of your cash but also looking to obtain your personal information. They will want information like your Social Security number as well as your birthday or banking data. Never reveal any personal information with prospective sellers other from your name and phone number.

If you apply for financing via a dealer, check that company is legal, genuine and has excellent ratings. Otherwise, it may be best to apply for a private party car loan outside of the dealership — or go someplace you can validate that the vendor is above board.

Fake adverts

When you are looking for a private sale, you may find adverts that don’t mention the VIN, or vehicle identifying number. If you are not able to confirm that the car exists — as in view it in person and confirm that the VIN is valid – don’t transfer money. It is fairly unusual for fraudsters to display a car in an advertising without owning it. And even if the car exists, ensure that it is not classified as stolen and that it has a clean vehicle history report.


This scam is when a dealer appears to be a private seller with the goal to sell a car that doesn’t conform with typical dealer requirements — meaning it has a salvaged title and is otherwise damaged. A salvaged title may create serious issues when it comes to insuring the car.

You may prevent this fraud by keeping away from automobiles offered online from empty lots, on the side of the road or perhaps at the seller’s house. And like with any private transaction, verify you confirm that the seller and VIN are real before you agree to purchase.

Buying sight unseen

Never agree to buy a car without viewing it. Not only is it ideal to take your desired automobile for a test drive and inspection, but purchasing sight unseen might mean the car can not appear like the photographs or worse — not exist at all. If the vendor pushes you or urges you to make a rapid deal before you can view the automobile in person, it is certainly a fraud.

Request for wire transfer or gift cards

If the prospective seller asks a wire transfer for the car payment, walk away. This is a popular strategy that fraudsters employ to grab your money with no car in return. Wired money is not traceable and exceedingly difficult to reclaim. This means you may be left with no automobile and no possible return.

Similar to fraudsters seeking money by wire transfer, some vendors would require gift cards for the payment. Again, walk away. Gift cards are not traceable and suggest the merchant is likely trying to con you.

Title washing

Title washing is an effort to disguise damage from a crash, flood or other difficulties with the vehicle’s history. Even if you have to shell out for it yourself, always acquire a car history report for the VIN. This isn’t guaranteed that it will demonstrate you everything the automobile has gone through, but it may assist you avoid falling victim to a fraudster attempting to sell a dangerous car.

Fake escrow account

While this fraud may go both ways, be careful of the use of a false escrow account when purchasing a vehicle online. Using an escrow account is a valid approach to keep both parties protected from fraud. However, fraudsters may utilise a bogus escrow account to deceive you into sending money straight into the seller’s account. When it’s time to pick up the car and transfer the title, the vendor is no longer accessible to be reached — and you are left with no method to reclaim your money.

Is internet automobile purchase a smart idea?

If you go via a reliable business, then purchasing a vehicle online is just as safe as a dealership. Even if you deal with a private seller, don’t allow the potential of a scam occuring dissuade you. By being an educated consumer, you will be less likely to be fooled and more likely to drive away delighted with your automobile purchase.

Benefits of online car purchase

If you know what frauds to watch out for and go via a reliable source, purchasing a vehicle online has its rewards.

Primarily, it saves time. You don’t have to travel to many dealerships and bother with physically browsing merchandise on a lot.

Buying online implies infinite shopping options. Since you aren’t restricted to the variety at a dealership, you may be able to locate a more precise fit for your requirements.

No sales pressure – after all, you’ll likely be skimming through websites on your phone and computer, not submitting yourself to experienced salesmen.
If you select for something such Carvana or Vroom, you’ll have access to countrywide delivery. There may be a modest price, but if you locate the ideal automobile, it might be worth it.

Drawbacks of online automobile purchase

Aside from frauds, there are a few reasons individuals still favour conventional dealers:

  • Big internet sources imply no negotiating. You will be able to haggle with a private seller, albeit you may incur the danger of getting ensnared in a scam.
  • Lenders may not give financing for a private sale while you are browsing online. If they do, you may discover that the rates are greater than with a new or used automobile loan.
  • You may not be able to undertake an in-person examination until you meet with the seller or have the automobile delivered. And it may be more difficult to have a mechanic check it when you purchase online.

What to do when you’ve been scammed

  • If you fear you have fallen victim to an internet scam, there are a few things you should take.
  • File a complaint immediately with the National Consumer League’s scam center.
  • Contact your state lawyer general.
  • File with the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center.
  • Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission.

It may be difficult or impossible to get the cash back if you transferred it via a wire transfer or handed over gift cards. However, maintain monitor of your bank activities if you input any information on an unauthorised website. If you observe any activity, alert your bank about the fraud and change any usernames or passwords associated to the account.

The bottom line

If a vehicle offer seems too good to be true, it generally is. Buying a car online may be a totally safe method to purchase a used automobile. But you need to keep a look out for frequent frauds and follow your intuition.

If anything looks odd, it usually is. At the end of the day, there are plenty of used automobiles on the market. You may always walk away from a transaction and choose another, more authentic vendor on trustworthy websites – or simply settle for a used vehicle shop.

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