How the scam works
You shop for a used vehicle on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay or any other online platform. You will find the make and model you are looking for at an excellent price. Awesome!
However, when you contact the seller, you find out that the vehicle is located in a different city. Fortunately, the seller knows a transport company that can deliver it to you. All you have to do is pay the transport company, who will keep the money in escrow until the vehicle is delivered. Many scammers will add a sad story meant to touch your heart. For example, they may claim that the car belonged to a deceased relative.
In an example recent report, the scammer claimed to be selling a car on behalf of their aunt, who had inherited the car from her recently deceased father. “The “aunt” claimed she was a nurse and worked shifts, and that my daughter’s original email had ended up in her junk mail folder. The “aunt” had moved to another province, thousands of miles away. But if my daughter wanted to buy the car for the stated price (which was far below the going price for a vehicle of this type, year and mileage), Auntie had a contract with a car transport company.”
Once you have paid the third party company, usually via wire transfer or prepaid debit card, your vehicle will not be delivered. The sale was a scam and the scammer was in cahoots with the outside transport company. Unfortunately, your money is gone for good.
How to avoid car sales scams
- Watch out for prices that are too good to be true. It’s probably a scam. Scammers know that used cars are in high demand and will entice buyers with great deals.
- Contact the seller by phone. Speak to the seller on the phone as early as possible and ask lots of questions. If you get very vague answers, if the seller gets defensive or aggressive, or if they can’t confirm their location or the vehicle’s location, you’re probably dealing with a scammer.
- Look at the car before you buy it. Always perform a personal inspection and test drive before purchasing a vehicle.
- Don’t give in to threats or pressure. Resist the urge to act immediately. Always take the time to consider a purchase, especially if it is a vehicle that costs thousands of dollars.
- Do not transfer money for a car. Scammers often ask for fixed money because they are difficult to trace and there is no way to get your money back. Large purchases are best made with a check or credit card.
For more information
see this BBB Investigation into Scams by Vehicle Shippers and Escrow. You may also want to read the BBB tips at: buy a used car and buy a car online.
If you see a car sales scam, report it BBB.org/ScamTracker and to the online marketplace where you found it.