Buying a car online? Beware of scams

Buy a car online from the comfort of your living room with just a few clicks has its benefits, but it also comes with risks. As with most of the online world, scams have crept into space. It’s important to be aware of common downsides so you don’t lose money when buying a new vehicle.

Common online car buying scams

There are a few common scams to watch out for when browse online for a car.

Identity theft

Some scammers seek not only to scam you out of your money, but also to collect your personal information. In this case, the scammers will ask for information such as your social security number, your date of birth or your banking numbers. Do not share any personal information with potential sellers. If you must share maintenance records, be sure to hide any private information.


This scam occurs when a dealership pretends to be a private seller intending to sell a vehicle that does not comply with normal dealership regulations, meaning it has a salvaged title. This will cause major headaches and can be avoided by staying away from vehicles being sold online on vacant lots, on the side of the road, or even at the seller’s home.

False advertisements

During your car search, you might come across online advertisements of vehicles for sale. But without confirmation of the VIN number of the vehicle, do not buy it. It is common for scammers to present a vehicle in an advertisement without having it.

Red flags to watch out for

Beware of these common red flags before giving an online seller your personal information or money.

Buy at sight

It’s never a good idea to buy a vehicle without seeing it. Not only is it better to take your potential car for a test drive and see how it suits you, buying on sight can mean the car might not look like the pictures or worse, not exist at all.

Bank transfer request

If the potential seller asks for a bank transfer for the payment of the vehicle, it is better to walk away. This is a common tactic that scammers use to take your money without a vehicle in return. Money transferred is not traceable and very difficult to recover. This means you risk being left without a car and without a potential refund.

They want payment via gift cards

Similar to scammers wanting payment by wire transfer, some sellers will ask for gift cards for car payment. This should tell you to walk away; gift cards are not traceable and means the seller is hiding something.

Is buying a car online a good idea?

The possibility of being scammed online is frightening – especially with so much money at stake – but don’t let the possibility of it happening deter you from embracing the ease of the online shopping process. By being an informed consumer and aware of common scammers’ tactics, you’ll be less likely to be duped and more likely to walk away satisfied with your vehicle purchase.

But if you think you’ve been the victim of an online scammer, there are a few steps you need to take to get your money back and help stop the scammer.

  1. File a complaint directly with the National Consumer League fraud center.
  2. Also file with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.
  3. Report the fraud to Federal Trade Commission.
  4. Follow the activity of your bank. Contact your bank with the fraud information and reset any username or password connected to the account.

The bottom line

The key to success when it comes to avoiding potential scams is to trust your instincts. If a car deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Take the time to understand common scammers’ tactics so you can do your best to avoid losing money.

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