How to avoid scammers when buying or selling vehicles online
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Buying and selling cars online is an incredibly useful, modern convenience, but it’s also become a feeding ground for scammers. The old saying goes, if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
The good news is that with a few precautions you can avoid falling into a scammer’s trap.
WHEN SELLING, be cautious of unconventional payment methods
Scams targeting online car auctions appear often. In these situations the scammer is often overseas or out of town and wants to buy your car for their father, mother or other relative.
Initially, the buyer will contact you and offer to buy the car for the exact asking price on the website, no questions asked. They’ll ask if they can pay you using some sort of online payment system such as PayPal or Western Union – online methods that are hard to trace and often international; you will then receive a fraudulent email saying that payment for the vehicle has been processed, along with a request for extra money to cover transporting costs to a (fake) address.
The buyer may appear to be in a rush to pressure you, the seller, into paying these fake shipping costs, to mask that fact their payment for the car has not been forthcoming.
WHEN BUYING, always check for outstanding finance
A really simple scam is selling a car with outstanding finance. In New Zealand, the finance stays with the car and not with its owner, so if you buy a vehicle with undisclosed finance owing on it, you’ll get more than you bargained for.
If a vehicle is listed with a bargain price, it’s often to lure a buyer into a quick, rushed sale. The seller may even explain they’re moving overseas to justify the urgency – which, admittedly can sometimes legitimate.
Typically for a scam, the car is sound and few details are exchanged, and it’s not until months after the sale when the buyer has vanished, that a repossession firm shows and notifies that there is finance owing.
The NZ Government’s ‘Buying a Used Car’ page offers a service to check for a $9 fee.
Another online scam is when a seller poses as a dealer; usually the vehicle is listed with a very low price, with the conditions of payment upfront and vehicle delivery. If not satisfied, you can cancel the contract and return the vehicle. However, once payment is processed, the vehicle never turns up and the fake seller/dealer disappears.
Look for clues in the photos, too. Do they look genuine? Is the vehicle left-hand drive when it shouldn’t be, is there a good selection of photos – if it looks suspicious, one tip is to ask for a specific photo of something that a scammer couldn’t supply, but a genuine seller could.
WHEN SELLING, Look out for trade offers
Trade offers can be completely legitimate, but sometimes sellers will propose a trade offer with a car of greater value than your own car being sold. Again, this is to lure you into a quick trade without doing the appropriate finance checks beforehand, or to even get you to transfer the difference back to the buyer.
HOW TO avoid being scammed
Always obtain check the buyer or sellers details, and never buy a car without viewing it and/or the seller. Never physically handover a sold car until the money appears, avoid – or be vary sceptical about – overseas buyers/sellers and unconventional payment methods and urgency or pressure from the buyer or seller.
Avoid rushing into anything – these things can (and should) take time and a legitimate buyer/seller will understand this. Research the vehicle’s value, verify the seller/buyer’s personal information, schedule an AA-style of inspection, especially if the vehicle is not local and check for monies owed. And avoid emailing personal info or credit card details. A little homework and caution could be the difference between a good buy and a good bye to a load of money.
If you have immediate concerns about a for sale listing on the Driven.co.nz, contact [email protected] or call 0800 735 455.