Buying a car is a major expense for most but buying a car online can cost much more than just the selling price. Just like many online purchases, a car for sale is subject to scams in our “buyer beware” climate. Online crooks rarely miss a scam opportunity and hackers are infiltrating online car sales designed to separate you from your money. Many victims not only lose thousands of dollars, but there’s a very good chance the car that’s posted for sale never existed to begin with.
There’s no shortage of unsuspecting victims who have fallen for these scams. Since 2014, the FBI received more than 29,000 complaints, costing potential car buyers $54 million–and counting. Edmunds, a legitimate car-buying site, reports finding many fake websites claiming to be theirs. Even further, scammers use the Edmunds name to set-up fake cash escrow services as an intermediary between private car sellers and their buyers. They find most of the fake websites use a sneaky URL that looks legitimate (a practice referred to as domain jacking or typosquatting) and warns they in no way are involved with third-party financial transactions. Other bogus online car sales have been found on Craig’s List, Facebook, and eBay–and those are just the sites we know about.
With no shortage of scammers hoping to steal your money, knowing the telltale signs of a hustle can keep shoppers from wasting thousands of dollars and a lot of sleepless nights. Below are some ways to “kick the tires” before you buy a car online.
• If the price tag looks too good to be true, it’s likely a set-up for a scam. Check the car’s private-party sale value on trusted sites and never follow a link the seller includes in an email. If the seller advertises various locations for the car, they’re trying to hook as many victims as they can.
• Initiate phone contact with the seller, as that alone can get a scammer running scared. Ask detailed questions about the title and where exactly the car is located. One thing a scammer loathes is providing details about a car and an ownership that never existed, especially over the phone.
• Make sure the escrow company is legitimate by calling its phone number directly and speaking with a representative. You can also go directly to the website if you know it’s the real deal. Never use the seller’s suggestions for where to finance the purchase. The phone numbers and websites, all scam-seller supplies, are part of the scam.
• Never provide personal financial information to the seller. These details include but are certainly not limited to credit card or bank account numbers. A scammer with your account numbers won’t waste any time using them and you’ll never hear from those thieves again.
• As with most hacking exploits, there are a few common-sense signs most scams have in common. Any written correspondence may include poor grammar and spelling and are huge red flags. In addition, claiming affiliation with legitimate groups, such as the military, are used to gain your trust. Do your research before providing it.