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If a deal looks too good to be true it probably is
You need to be alert to the possibility of being scammed when buying a car. Remember above all else that if a deal looks too good to be true it probably is. Car buying scams cost consumers around £3 million a year.
Major car advertisers including Auto Trader, eBay Motors, and Exchange & Mart have joined forces with the Metropolitan Police to form the Vehicle Safe Trading Advisory Group (VSTAG), an industry forum to combat vehicle related fraud.
Check the Metropolitan Police fraud alert for the latest information on fraud and other economic crime to help you avoid becoming a victim.
The 'virtual vehicle' scam involves fake shipping websites that promise to handle and look after your money.
Once you respond and express interest in buying the car – which is currently located abroad – you are directed to a fake website for a shipping company that will handle the transfer of funds including shipping costs.
In theory the shipping company will transfer the funds to the vehicle seller when you have taken delivery and confirm that you're happy with the vehicle.
In practice, the funds may be transferred but the vehicle never appears.
These work by approaching owners who are selling their cars and promising falsely to match them with 'definite buyers' – consumers lose nearly £3 million a year according to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT)
Typically while advertising a car for sale in a magazine, newspaper or online you're cold-called by telephone. The caller promises that they already have buyers lined-up who are looking to buy the same model – all you have to do is pay a matcher's fee up-front before the buyer is introduced and the sale completed.
Often though there is no buyer, the contract with the vehicle matcher cannot be cancelled, and any money paid is lost.
In 2008, Consumer Direct received more than 1600 complaints about this type of scam from private sellers of second hand cars who had each lost between £80 and £99. The true number of victims is probably much larger.
The OFT has been working with the police, local authority Trading Standards Services and consumer bodies to crack down on car matching scammers.
The OFT is also working with online and print motoring publications and websites who are members of VSTAG to put in place clear and prominent warnings to car sellers about these scams.
If you think you have been the victim of a vehicle matching scam, or you suspect a scam, contact the Citizen's Advice Bureau in the first instance for advice.
(Updated 30 Octoberl 2012)
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