Car Buying Scams: Grand Theft Auto

July 15, 2010

Stealing cars in a video game can be fun and exciting. Unfortunately, stealing cars in real life is devastating to the victim and robs all of us of our sense of security and safety.  

There is a new online version of grand theft auto where vehicles aren’t actually stolen. Instead, car dealers have their identity taken illegally and local residents are conned out of hundreds and thousands of dollars they can ill afford to lose.

Beware Deals That Are Too Good To Be True
The latest version of this scam has thieves creating a website that looks and feels just like a local car dealer’s site. They list a bunch of used cars and even include lots of pictures, just like the actual dealership. However, the deals on this fake site are too good to be true--literally.

The latest wrinkle has the scammers justifying their low prices by describing the cars as repossessed. This fake site may even proclaim that they are a “Carfax Certified Dealership” to add credibility to their low prices. The problem is they don’t actually sell any cars, the prices aren’t real--they are listed that low to entice more buyers to contact them--andCarfax never certifies dealerships.

Don’t Do It
What happens next is the key to this scam working or not. After buyers contact the fake website by email or through a chat function--you can never get them on the telephone or see them in person--the unwitting car buyers is asked to wire a deposit for a vehicle sight unseen. This, despite the fact, the dealership is local. The price is so good that potential buyers don’t want to lose out on the deal. It’s that fear of loss that motivates them to take a step that will end up costing them all the money they wire to the scammers.

In the years that I spent as an Internet Manager for a major car dealership, I was tasked with selling hundreds of vehicle online each year. I never asked a buyer to wire money for a car they hadn’t inspected in person. In fact, I never asked a buyer to wire money, period.

If you’re dealing with a local car dealer, it’s okay to negotiate the deal online, but never buy the car until you inspect it in person. Above all, don’t cut corners simply because you’re afraid of losing out on a deal that sounds too good to be true.

Protect Yourself
Watch for these red flags when shopping for a used vehicle 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 or in person.
  • 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

Are you afraid of making other mistakes when buying a used car? Download the author’s free article, The 8 Biggest Mistakes Used Car Buyers Make and How to Avoid Them at

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