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Online Car Sales Scams: What to Look For

» Posted October 27, 2021Resources | Share This Post

Going online is an increasingly popular way to buy a car but there are many potential pitfalls when it comes to using the internet to purchase a new set of wheels. 

First, there is the risk that the car is defective. Many used cars sold online are subject to outstanding recalls for problems that have not yet been fixed. Although it is generally legal to sell recalled vehicles, buyers can ensure that a car hasn’t been recalled by seeing it in person, getting the VIN, and checking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website.

Then, there is the risk of scams. From ads for cars that don’t exist to bait and switch schemes in which the car delivered does not match the vehicle in the photos and description, fraudsters often use false car sales to get over on unsuspecting shoppers.

Too Good to be True? It is Probably a Scam

The Federal Bureau of Investigation warns that car sale fraud regularly involves a listing for a vehicle that is priced well below its value. That is a sign that the advertisement is fake.

“The fake advertisements usually include photos matching the description of the vehicle and a phone number or e-mail address to contact the supposed seller,” the FBI explains. “Once contact is established, the criminal sends the intended buyer additional photos along with an explanation for the discounted price and the urgency of the transaction.”

Scammers often say the price has been discounted because they need to get rid of the car quickly. They commonly claim that the seller is moving or is being deployed for military service, that the car belonged to a family member who died or that the seller received the vehicle as part of a divorce settlement.

“The criminal makes the fraud appear legitimate by deceptively claiming partnership with a reputable company, such as eBay, and assuring that the transaction will occur through the third party’s buyer protection program,” according to the FBI.” They may go so far as to send a fraudulent toll-free number that impersonates the third party.”

Other Tips for Spotting Fraudulent Car Ads

There are a wide range of other signs of likely fraud. Buyers who encounter one or more of these signs should steer clear of purchasing a car from the supposed seller.

  • The seller requests payment in gift cards
  • The seller refuses to meet in person or to allow the buyer to physically inspect the vehicle
  • The seller refuses to provide the VIN
  • The VIN does not match up with the type of vehicle listed for sale

How to Avoid Fraudulent Car Sales 

Buyers can take the following steps to avoid being ripped off:

  • Use the internet to research the seller’s name, email address and contact information. 
  • Research the company’s name to see if it has been the subject of complaints. Ensure that the company’s contact information is legitimate and that you understand any payment policies before completing a transaction.
  • Do not do business with a seller who will not meet in person or will not allow you to see the car in person before the deal is completed.
  • Ask for the VIN and the name of the person to whom the car is currently registered.
  • Contact the business directly to ensure that the ad is legit.

When in doubt, do not go through with a purchase if you believe it might be a scam. 

How a California Lemon Law Attorney Can Help

If you have been stuck with a malfunctioning vehicle, an experienced California lemon law attorney at Bickel Sannipoli APC can help. A lawyer at our firm will explain your rights and help you explore your options for making sure that the manufacturer is held fully accountable.

Our offices are conveniently located in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco.  Call us at (888) 800-1983 or contact us online to speak with a California lemon law attorney today.


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Posted By: Rick Mills

BICKEL SANNIPOLI APC