Buying and selling vehicles online has become commonplace and convenient. As more consumers and sellers have moved into the online space, scammers have followed. Protecting yourself against fraud when you’re buying and selling online is important and we can ensure that your financial information is secure. Before you buy or sell, here are some frequently asked questions about online fraud.
The price seems too good to be true. Is it?
Research the vehicle’s market value across a few different websites. Be suspicious of any items priced significantly below market value. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
How do I spot vehicle fraud?
As a buyer verifying the authenticity of the car, use a third-party inspection service. As a seller, provide full documentation from a third-party inspector or be willing to allow the buyer to verify information through an inspection on their own terms. A seal of approval from an expert is important with high-value items.
Are there other kinds of fraud associated with vehicles?
Yes. According to the Consumer Federation of America, nearly one in 10 Americans is driving a vehicle with an incorrect odometer. Both mechanical and digital odometers can be tampered with, but there are ways to protect against this type of deception. The simplest way is to compare the total mileage listed on the title to the odometer itself. Fraudsters will often attempt to make the title mileage difficult to read by blurring or smudging the text. Any copy that are unclear or illegible on a title should be a red flag to a potential buyer. You can also check mileage against maintenance or oil change stickers on the vehicle and ask for mechanical records.
Another common type of fraud involves hiding mechanical or body damage. This includes covering up minor cosmetic damage such as scratches or surface rust, or not disclosing the damage at all. More extreme cases of fraud can involve tampering with or altering mechanical components of the vehicle itself. The best protection against this type of fraud is to have the vehicle properly inspected by a third party prior to the sale. Only a professional will be able to spot the signs of tampering at the mechanical level.
How do I know if the car has a clean title?
This type of deception is most commonly found after major natural disasters like hurricanes or floods. After a disaster, vehicles are often worth far less and given a salvage status due to heavy water damage. Washing the title refers to the practice of dealers or individuals transferring the vehicle to another state or region that doesn’t recognize the salvage. Before you buy, run the vehicle’s history report through a company like CarFAX. Services like these perform a comprehensive report that will likely expose any details a seller is attempting to hide or not disclose up front.
How do I know if the seller is legitimate?
Most online auctions and transactions begin through email and most users never think twice about email-only conversations. However, one of the easiest ways to sift out legitimate buyers and sellers from scammers is to follow up with a phone call or, if possible, in person. If the other party insists that email is the only method by which they’re willing to communicate with you, this is a red flag. Never provide sensitive personal or financial information to a seller. Do a cursory internet search for the seller’s name and phone number.
Is it safe to share my banking information with the seller?
No. As a buyer or a seller, you should never transmit account numbers. Unless you’re 100 percent positive that you can trust the second party, you should never share banking or other financial information online. Scammers need relatively small amounts of information to begin clearing your accounts once they have the account number. Using PaySAFE Escrow to transmit your funds will guard the information between the two parties. This is one of the safest and most secure ways to buy and sell online.
How do I secure my funds for a sale?
Online escrow is the most secure way to transfer funds between two parties. Buyers are protected because funds are held securely until there is proof that the item has shipped, or has even arrived for a final inspection. Sellers are also protected as funds are verified and held upfront – completely removing the risk of non-payment, insufficient funds, fraudulent checks and credit card chargebacks.
I suspect that someone is trying to defraud me. Can I report them?
The Internet Crime Complaint Center should be the first stop for anyone who believes they are a victim of online fraud. They are a partnership organization of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center.
Most consumers are smarter than they realize when it comes to sniffing out a scam. If you’re a buyer who suspects a potential vehicle is not as advertised, how can you be certain? Trusting your instincts when something seems a bit off and asking the right questions can save you countless hours of time and stress. If an item seems too good to be true, it generally is. For more information on how you can protect your personal and financial information online, see our blog posts about what to do if you think you’ve been scammed and how to pay for eBay items.