Car buying scams

Offer sounds too good to be true?

Here's how to avoid being a victim of crime

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.

Check the Metropolitan Police fraud alert for the latest information on fraud and other economic crime to help you avoid becoming a victim.

Buy a used car from a name you can trust.

Virtual vehicle scams

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.

Advice – virtual vehicle scams
  • If an offer sounds too good to be true it probably is
  • Don't hand over money to someone you don't know for a vehicle you've not seen
    Always get a vehicle history check for peace of mind.
  • Put yourself in the sellers position:
    • Would you price your vehicle well below the standard market value, and then at additional expense offer to ship it overseas, and – if the buyer doesn't like it – ship it back at your own expense?
    • Would you ask a complete stranger in the street to hold several thousands pounds of your money whilst you wait for another complete stranger to deliver a car to you?
  • 'Paper cars' are another version of this – websites with copied adverts from elsewhere on the web, but with knock-down prices. Again, don't part with your money until you've seen the vehicle.
  • The Metropolitan Police and Western Union Bank both recommend that consumers use money transfers as a means to purchase goods only when sending money to someone they already know and trust
Vehicle matching scams

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.

Advice – vehicle matching scams
  • Stop, think and be sceptical if you are cold called and asked for money in advance
  • Don't give your credit or debit card details to people you don't know
  • Stop, think and be sceptical if promises are made that give the impression that:
    • there are immediate buyers for your car
    • finance has already been arranged for potential buyers
    • buyers are willing to pay your asking price or more
    • buyers are ready to view your car immediately, or
    • you will be offered a refund if the car does not sell
  • Don't be pressured into anything – if in any doubt about a particular telephone call, hang up
  • If it sounds too good to be true it probably is

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 26 June 2013)