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How to spot an online car sales scam

Fake photos. Fake invoices. Fake sellers. Here’s how to ferret them out on CraigsList, eBay and other buy/sell/trade sites.

Remember, those sites are basically just global, virtual bulletin boards. Anybody from anywhere can post anything they want on them with very little oversight. In fact, most buy/sell/trade community sites publish policies that absolve them of any responsibility for scam transactions. They provide the forum, period — they’re not responsible for patrolling sellers and buyers.

The lack of oversight has allowed crooks to perpetuate a routine online used car sales scam, according to Consumer Education Specialist Colleen Tressler of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “Criminals post ads on online auction and sales websites, like eBay Motors, for inexpensive used cars that they don’t really own,” said Tressler. “They offer to chat online, share photos, and answer questions. They may even tell you the sale will go through a well-known retailer’s buyer protection program.

“Recently, sellers have been sending fake invoices that appear to come from eBay Motors and demanding payment in eBay gift cards. If you call the number on the invoice, the scammer pretends to work for eBay Motors. Trusting buyers have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year alone.”

Tressler offered a handy guide to finding a fake online auto sale:

  • Bad reviews online. Check out the seller by searching online for the person’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”
  • Rushed sales pitches. Resist the pressure. Scammers use high-pressure sales tactics to get you to buy without thinking things through.
  • They can’t or won’t meet in person or let you inspect the car. Scammers might have an excuse, like a job transfer, military deployment, or divorce, for why you can’t see them or the car. But experts agree that you should have an independent mechanic inspect a used car before you buy it, preferably one who is National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified.
  • They want you to pay with gift cards or by wire transfer. If anyone tells you to pay that way, it’s a scam. Every time.
  • The sellers demand more money after the sale for “shipping” or “transportation” costs.
  • The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) doesn’t match the VIN for the car you’re interested in. vehicle history report can help you spot such discrepancies.

You must verify the seller is who he or she claims to be. If you can’t, there’s no car deal.

There’s probably no car, either.

Copyright 2019 Wise Choices TM. All rights reserved.

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