Buyers Beware: Online Auto Sale Scams

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3 min to read

It’s almost like the perfect scam: offer buyers a way to bi-pass the sleezy car salesman at the dealership, and purchase a car directly online. Sounds like a great deal. The only problem? Sometimes there is no car, and other times the car is damaged goods.

In a recent article from the StarTribune, they discuss some of the most recent online auto scams and how the Better Business Bureau (BBB) suspects these scams will continue to flourish. The most recent scam involves purchasing vehicles online. Though it may not seem like the safest and most logical way to purchase a car, it’s very appealing to those who would rather not deal with the trip to the car dealership. The website offers them pictures of the supposed vehicle, albeit fake, and the buyer can easily purchase the car online.

However, once the money is sent, the transaction is over. The fake website never sends a vehicle and the buyer is left with thousands of dollars in the hole. Scams like this have been popping for a few years now, and the BBB has shut down quite a few. But since creating a website anonymously is so easy these days, the BBB expects these scams to flourish. In fact, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reports that between the years 2008 and 2010 alone buyers lost nearly $44.5 million in these online scams.

So what should you look out for in these online auto sale scams?

3 Signs of an Online Auto Scam


If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. One buyer told the StarTribune that he purchased a Corvette he had wanted his entire life for $35,000. Depending on the condition and age of the vehicle, this price may have been spot on or entirely too low. Either way, as an informed buyer be sure to compare and contrast the price of the vehicle you are looking to purchase online. By doing a ton of research and knowing what the cost of your vehicle should be, you can more easily weed out the scam websites.

Company Address

In the case of most online auto sale scams, the address listed for the business is fake. Before you send or wire money to any online company for a purchase as large as a vehicle, make sure the company actually exists! In one of the cases reported, the potential buyer looked up the address for the company in Minnesota and had one of his relatives that lived in the area check it out. When his relative arrived at the given address, it was a completely different company that knew nothing about online auto sales.

If possible, try to check out the address of the company before making a purchase. This can be very difficult though since most buyers looking to purchase a vehicle online are purchasing it from somewhere far away. Do as much research as possible and if you have a relative, friend or acquaintance in the area, have them check the company’s address out.

Absence of Testimonials

Word of mouth and recommendation is how many companies stay afloat these days. If you take a look at the company’s website and there seems to be no sign of a review, testimonial or rating, then the site may be bad news. Reputable companies flourish from customer reviews, while shady or scam companies may try everything in their power to keep negative reviews hidden. As with any large purchase, be sure to do your research and check up on the company’s reputation before sending any money their way.

Online Auto Sales and Car Shipping

Unfortunately, bogus online auto sales are not the only thing buyers need to be weary of these days. Some online auto companies may actually be legitimate, but they may not do business in the most honest way.

When a company sells vehicles online, the customer is not able to inspect the vehicle and ensure it is up-to-par as advertised. That means that online they may say the vehicle is in tip-top shape.

However, when the vehicle is shipped to you by the owner you may notice damages that were not noted on the site. If the online company uses an auto transport company to ship the vehicle to you, they can easily blame the damages on the shippers.

When a vehicle is picked up for transport, the owner of the vehicle and the trucker are supposed to take the time to carefully inspect the vehicle for pre-existing damages. Once those damages are assessed, they are marked on a document called the Bill of Lading. Both the shipper and the trucker must sign the Bill of Lading before the vehicle can be shipped. However, if the vehicle is shipped at night or is covered by a layer of dust, it’s easy to overlook pre-existing damages. Once the vehicle is delivered to the buyer on the other end, they realize how many damages the car actually has.

Since the Bill of Lading was signed by both the trucker and the online company, it could be months before the dispute is settled. Meanwhile, the customer spent thousands of dollars on a damaged vehicle. In some cases, the damage to the vehicle may not even be visible from the exterior, so it can be impossible to know until you drive it for the first time.

While purchasing a car online sounds like a great idea, buyers must beware. Know of the scams that currently exist and always do your research before making a purchase online. In the end, the added time and effort could save you thousands upon thousands of dollars.

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