Tips to Help You Avoid Being Scammed When Buying a Car Online

Buying a car online is a convenient option, particularly when it’s the only way to get around. But it’s easy to be scammed if you’re not careful and aren’t paying attention to the little details that can cost you big time and money down the road. Here are five things you should look out for when buying a car online to ensure you’re getting exactly what you want and nothing less.


Common car buying scams online

There are a few common scams to watch out for when looking for a car online, according to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).


Identity theft

Aside from swindling you for your money, some scammers aim to gather your personal information. They will ask for your Social Security number, your birth date, or your banking details. Apart from your name and phone number, never give out any personal information to potential sellers.

Make sure the dealer you apply to is licensed, legitimate and has a good reputation. If not, it might be a good idea to apply to a private party – or go somewhere you can confirm the legitimacy of the seller.


Fake ads

Often, private sale advertisements do not include the VIN, or vehicle identification number. If you cannot confirm that the vehicle exists – as in, see it in person, and verify the VIN – then do not send money. Scammers often advertise vehicles without having them, even if the vehicles exist, so make sure they are not listed as stolen and have a clean vehicle history report.



Dealers try to sell damaged or salvaged vehicles by pretending to be private sellers in order to subvert dealer regulations. If the vehicle’s title is salvaged, insuring it will present major headaches. The best way to avoid this scam is to stay away from vehicles that are sold online, by the side of the road or even at the owner’s home. If you are purchasing items from a private seller, you should ensure the seller is legitimate by checking the VIN number. 


Buying a website sight unseen

Buying a car without looking at it in person is risky. Your potential car may not look like the pictures or it might not exist at all. It is likely to be a scam if the seller rushes you and/or encourages you to make the purchase before seeing the car in person.


Request: send wire transfer or gift card

It is a common scam tactic for scammers to take your money without returning the vehicle. Walk away if the potential seller requests a wire transfer. Wired money cannot be traced and is very difficult to recover. This may cause you to lose your vehicle and you might not be able to get a refund.

The same applies to scammers who request wire transfer payments. Walk away. A gift card cannot be traced, which indicates that the seller is likely to attempt to scam you.


Title washing

When you buy a car, you should always get a vehicle history report for the VIN, even if you have to pay for it yourself. While this won’t give you an overview of the car’s history, it can help you avoid falling victim to scams that try to rid you of unsafe vehicles.


Fake escrow account

A fraudulent fake escrow account can go both ways, and make sure to be vigilant when purchasing a car online. Legitimate ways to prevent fraud is by using an escrow account. Nonetheless, it is possible that scammers may use a fake escrow account to trick you into transferring your money directly into the seller’s account. On the day you pick up and transfer the title, the seller is no longer available to be contacted — and you are left with no way to recover your money.


Is online car buying a good idea?

In most cases, buying a car online is just as safe as going to a dealership. Even if you go through a private seller, don’t be deterred by the possibility of a scam. Educating yourself about your vehicle purchase will make you less likely to be duped, meaning you’ll be happier with your vehicle when it’s delivered.


The benefits of online car buying

Be smart, know the dangers, and buy from a reputable source to be successful online with your car purchase.


  • In the long-term, it saves you time because you don’t have to go to various dealerships and interact with car inventories.
  • Buying online means you’re never at a loss for products and chances are good you will find the product you’re looking for since you’re not restricted to what’s available in your town.
  • No sales pressure – you will likely browse on your smartphone or computer and not be pressured by any salesmen.

If you purchase a car from Vroom or Carvana, you will be eligible for delivery, but it may be on the other end of the state or across the country. But if you can find the right car, it will be worth it.


What to do if you’ve been scammed

The following steps should be followed if you suspect you have been scammed online.

  • The fraud centre of the National Consumer League can assist you with your complaint.
  • You can contact the attorney general of your state.
  • The Internet Crime Complaint Center of the FBI can be contacted for assistance.
  • The Federal Trade Commission should be notified of the fraud.

Keep an eye on your bank activity, if you entered any information on an illegitimate website, if you sent money through a wire transfer or handed over gift cards. Contact your bank if you see any activity and reset your username and password if you see any.


The bottom line

If a deal sounds too good to be true, it’s likely a scam. However, the process of buying a used car online is not risky. However, be on the lookout for scams and use your common sense.

If something seems wrong, it probably is. Used cars are plentiful. If a sale isn’t working out for you, it’s possible to walk away and find another reputable seller through reliable sites, or settle for a dealership.


Copyright © 2017-2018 USA Direct Auto
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