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6 ways to tell if a car for sale is fake

It’s hard to pass up a bulk buy of paper towels from a superstore website or discounted electronics on Amazon’s Prime Day while nestled on the couch in your living room. With millions of items ready for purchase at our fingertips, consumers have become addicted to the convenience of online shopping. Some even make the mistake of shopping while drunk.

A significant downside to having such accessibility to products from around the world is ensuring the purchased item is what is received. It is imperative as shoppers, we remember ‘buyer beware’ and exercise due diligence when making certain the products are as advertised before clicking the BUY button.

While it’s easy to discern the difference between toilet paper from tissue paper, recognizing other products sold on the internet as the ‘real deal’ may not be so simple, and scammers are banking on it.

According to a recent FTC report, one scheme targets online car buyers. The government agency reveals that criminals are selling vehicles they don’t have, or own, taking consumers for hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last year.

How do you avoid becoming a victim of this ploy? Here are six ways to tell if a car for sale online is fake.

How the online car scam works

To appear authentic, the offenders post inexpensive used car ads on valid auction or e-commerce sites, like eBay Motors. The individuals may provide photos of the vehicle, chat with you online, and answer questions you may have. To further bolster their legitimacy, sellers may claim the transaction will be safe under a retailer’s buyer protection program.

The FTC goes on to note criminals are known for sending fake invoices that look like they are from eBay Motors. If you call the customer service number often included on the invoice, you are met with the scammer pretending to be with eBay Motors.

While crooks go to great lengths to convince you everything is on the up and up, there are ways to find out if the situation is all a ruse.

1. Watch for negative reviews

This element of digital shopping is essential, regardless of the product you are purchasing. Reading reviews before ordering merchandise online helps confirm the merchant or seller is reputable and not a fraud.

Always seek out contact information for the seller, including name, phone number and email address. If this info does not exist, don’t buy it. Also, take notice of reviews that use any negative or warning terms such as scam, complaint, or ‘buyer beware.’

2. Be wary of sellers who are in a hurry

We all know the majority of salespeople are assertive, that’s part of their job. However, if you find a seller is rushing you through the buying process faster than Jimmy John’s can deliver a sub to your table, run the other direction. Any time you feel pressured into a purchase, step back, go with your gut and do not buy whatever it is the salesman is selling.

3. Don’t buy if you can’t inspect the car in-person

If you can’t meet the seller or check out the car in-person, there’s a problem. Regardless of the excuses a seller may offer, or how inexpensive the car may be, insist on looking at the vehicle before you purchase it. An up-close inspection by you and a qualified mechanic is your opportunity to ensure it is the advertised car, it’s legally owned by the seller and is in good running condition.

Also, stay safe when meeting up with a seller you do not know. Insist on meeting and viewing the seller’s item(s) in a public place or in front of a police station.


Related: Warning! Fake apps you need to delete from your phone now


4. Red flag: Sellers asking for gift cards

Another red flag indicating the seller is an imposter is if (s)he requests you purchase the vehicle with gift cards or a wire transfer. No number of cards or dollar amount makes this scenario legitimate.


Related: Loyalty points and gift card scams are on the rise


A seller asking for a wire transfer is equally suspect. Wire transfers are an immediate and permanent form of payment; they cannot be reversed. Along those same lines, never give banking or personal information to a seller as this information can be used to gain access to your bank accounts.

5. When enough is never enough

It is important that you discuss all the costs for the listed vehicle before you purchase it. If the seller comes back to you after the sale ordering you to pay additional money for any reason, odds are it is a scam. Do not send the seller any funds above what was initially agreed upon.

6. The numbers don’t match

If the VIN provided doesn’t match the Vehicle Identification Number for the car, don’t buy the vehicle.

Scammers know the average consumer most likely wouldn’t recognize any discrepancy between VINs until after the sale is complete when the buyer goes to the local DMV and is advised the VIN is incorrect. When in doubt, Kim has the scoop on how to look up a VIN before buying a used car.

Unfortunately, this latest scam has cost victims a massive sum of money. Don’t be one of them. Be on the alert for how to spot a fake when you are looking to buy a car online. If you find yourself in this scenario, notify your local authorities or contact the FTC and file a claim.

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