Beware Of Scammers When Buying A Used Car

July 5, 2010

When I was Internet Manager for a major car dealer, I made my living selling cars online. However, not once did I ask someone to buy a car sight unseen by wiring me money. It turns out that one of the latest scams emerging around the country has what appear to be legitimate car dealers doing just that.

Scammers are setting up websites that look just like an existing car dealer’s site. They list great deals--virtually too good to pass up--and ask that you wire them money to get in on these amazing buys while the getting is good.

Obviously, the sites are fake, and the wired money gets lost. Consumers are out thousands of dollars and the industry is smeared through no fault of its own.

The Bad Guys Win Again
In this latest scam, consumers believe they are dealing with a legitimate business. No wonder. The scammers are stealing the identity of major car dealers by setting up websites that look like the real thing. In one case, after wiring a sizable deposit on one of these non-existent vehicles, the buyer called the actual dealership to arrange delivery. You can imagine the surprise on both ends of that telephone call.

Inventive New Scams
Scammers are nothing if not inventive. I was recently on helping a friend buy a used car. I came across the perfect deal: an older Honda Accord with almost no miles and priced well below what the market would bear. I immediately emailed the seller for more information because they didn’t provide a telephone number. It turns out the car was out of state and all I needed to do was wire a deposit to hold the car, with the remainder due upon delivery.

This was obviously a case of, “If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.” Needless to say, I didn’t tell my friend to investigate this Accord any further.  

Protect Yourself
The bottom line for used car buyers is to guard against scammers. Watch out for these red flags when shopping for a car, truck, or SUV online:

  • Beware of dealers who only accept payment by wire transfer.
  • Watch out for dealers who only want to communicate via email or chat, but never by telephone.
  • If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

If you have fallen victim to online scammers, contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center at or the Better Business Bureau at

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