5 Common Scams When Selling Your Car Online

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Selling a car online can be more convenient than going to a dealership. However, scams can occur. It’s important to be cautious and know what to look out for if you think you are being scammed. Some scams are more common than others when it comes to selling your car online. These are the top 5 scams to look out for.

Scam 1 - Buying without viewing

Although it’s not unheard of, someone buying a car without seeing it first is quite unusual. This should raise a few questions as to why a potential buyer doesn't want to view the vehicle. 

Unfortunately, what tends to happen with this type of scam is the buyer will purposely damage or even get into a car accident and claim that the damage was there when they purchased the vehicle. They might try and get you to pay for the damage that was not your fault. 

How to avoid this scam

  • Try to find a potential buyer that will view the vehicle. For extra peace of mind, you can get them to sign a “sold as seen receipt”.
  • Make sure that you have described the car fully, including any damage or faults.
  • Images are a great way to capture the full picture of the vehicle and to avoid being misled.

Scam 2 - What it’s worth

When selling your car online, it’s important that you know what it’s worth. However, the potential buyer (or their “expert”) might claim that the car isn’t worth the price that it is listed for and try to bring down the price. What usually happens is, the car then goes back on the market for a higher price then you sold it for.

How to avoid this scam

  • Get the car inspected before you put it on the market, this will give you an idea on how much the car is worth. 

Scam 3 - Buying through PayPal

Buying through PayPal is quite common, but not for buying a car. When the potential buyer offers to pay through PayPal, the rest goes something like this:

The car will not be viewed in person and the potential buyer will give you an unusual story on why (such as they are not in the same country or they are buying the car for someone else, who is hundreds of miles away) and then push to buy it. You’ve said yes and given over your PayPal details and the money is now ‘pending’ in your account, plus a little extra to cover any dispatch costs. You next receive an email that says, ‘The money is now pending in your account and will be transferred as soon as payment has been made to the dispatch company’. You go to send the money over through the email and this is when the scam occurs. The money that you have sent isn't to a dispatch company but right into the scammer’s pockets as this legitimate-looking email turns out to be fake. 

This sounds very obvious and far-fetched but it’s actually quite common.

How to avoid this scam

  • Make sure that the potential buyer is able to view the car in person.
  • If the buyer is more concerned about the payment method than the car itself, this should raise some red flags. If you have any concerns, cancel and do not go through with the same. 

Scam 4 - The fake cheque and monthly payments

Unlike the previous scams, this one is done face to face. The potential buyer ‘loves’ the car and is ready to buy, using a cheque. In this scam, the potential buyer will never pay and will hand you a fake cheque. This can occur with pound notes. 

With the monthly payments, this one can be hard to spot initially. A genuine buyer is interested in the car and now wants to buy through a monthly payment scheme, usually through a direct debit. However, the problem with this is that the buyer can just cancel the direct debit and simply just stops paying. 

How to avoid this scam

  • Don’t accept a cheque or a direct debit, the fear of the cheque being fake or the direct debit being cancelled is quite real. Preferably, accept cash (to check this is real, use a money checker pen) or a bank transfer. Make sure the money has hit your bank account before handing over the keys. 

Scam 5 - Test drives

This scam can occur in two different ways. The first one is that the potential buyer wants to test drive the car and asks you to drive first. When it’s time to switch seats and once you are out of the car, the ‘potential buyer’ will slide over and drive away, leaving you behind. 

The second scenario is that the potential buyer requests a test drive but on their own, they will simply drive away and not return the vehicle.

How to avoid this scam

  • When you are switching seats, take the keys out of the ignition.
  • Ask to see the potential buyer's driving licence, this gives you any detail you might need if this scam occurs.
  • If this does occur, report the car as stolen.

Where to report any fraud or scams

If you do find yourself in any of these situations, it’s important to report it.

In the UK, report it to Action Fraud or by phone on 0300 123 2040. 

If you feel like you are in any danger, please call 999 immediately.   

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