Common scams when
buying a used car online
CONSUMERS HAVE MANY options when buying used cars. If you choose to forgo the dealership
route, there are many alternative methods of buying
a vehicle. The used-car market always draws people looking for a deal. Online sites such as
Craigslist have opened up a whole new marketplace of person-to-person private car sales.
However, while these websites may be convenient,
and you may be able to find an incredible deal, you
need to be aware of the variety of frauds and scams
perpetrated on individuals looking to buy a car.
Here are some commonly reported scams to be
on the lookout for.
False auctions. This is a popular method of
swindling buyers who use online bidding sites such
as eBay. Sellers may list false information about a
car, or they may post a photo that is not representative of the car they are selling. These sellers often use
“shill programs” that automatically bid against you
when you are trying to negotiate the sale. This can
drive up the price and get you to pay more than you
initially planned to.
The car shipment scam. In this con, you are
hoping to buy a classic, exotic or hard-to-find car.
The seller claims that the car is out of town. The
seller charges an extra fee for shipment, or will
arrange for shipment only upon receipt of payment.
Once the money is transferred to the seller’s checking account or wired via Western Union, the seller
may become impossible to reach. No such car may
have even existed. Your money will be gone.
Escrow scams. When spending a lot of money
for a car, most buyers do not trust direct payment or
wire transfers, and for good reason. Therefore, a common method to pay a seller is to place the funds into
an escrow account, such as PayPal. However, escrow
accounts are often used for conning purposes. The
money may be placed in the account and accepted by
the seller, but you may never hear from the seller
again, as he or she may close the escrow account and
effectively get away with the money with no way of
being tracked down. Another way a seller can con you
is to organize a fake escrow fund, going so far as to
create a dummy program where you place your funds;
of course, you never receive the car.
The used-car-dealer scam. This fraudulent
practice has become more common than you may
think. You see a car on Craigslist that interests you.
A meeting may even be arranged, and the car looks
great. However, you find out too late that the seller
is actually a used-car dealer who is employing
Craigslist to sell cars that have been difficult to get
rid of at the car lot or using a private sale as a way of
skirting Federal Trade Commission laws that,
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“Connection.” At Online Edition,
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among other things, require dealers to disclose a
car’s history and provide a buyer’s guide.
While all of these cons and scams may feel
overwhelming, you can still get a good deal on a
legitimate car when using online sites. However, it
is very important to follow these tips to avoid car-buying scams (they also apply if you wish to sell a
• Do not trust sellers when they say the transaction is “guaranteed” by eBay, Craiglist, PayPal or
other online services. Most of these sites do not
guarantee a seller’s claims.
• Call the seller and establish direct contact other
than messaging and emails. Ask questions about the
car, its location and pricing, and pay attention to their
answers. Often you can detect a scam by comparing
details agreed to in an email, or getting a sense from
• Never agree to sell a car to someone who refuses to meet face-to-face, and
make every attempt to buy from somebody local in order to inspect the car and
the person selling it.
• Try not to wire money or use
a bank-to-bank transfer when
buying, as this is where scammers lurk. Beware of sellers
eager to conclude the deal
quickly, as scammers and
con artists want to get your
payment and clear it before
you can check them out or
consult a professional.
Just because a variety
of cons and scams occur
when buying used cars,
this does not mean that
legitimate buyers and sellers
aren’t out there. Be an educated buyer or seller. If the
situation does not feel right,
don’t go through with the
Costco offers a new- and
used-car program for Costco
members. Go to Costco.com
and click on “Services.”—Ed.
I MADE AN online payment to Verizon. I meant
to pay $49.46, but forgot to
put in the decimal point.
Therefore, I was charged
the amount of $4,946.
When I tried to reverse the
payment, Verizon declined
the request because the
money had already
cleared. What can I do?
The ;rst thing you should
do to recoup payment is
start with Verizon. Explain
the problem to them, and
they will either refund you
for the amount that
you overpaid, or
they will simply
er, though it
may take four
to seven days
for it to be
Also, let your
bank know what is
going on. I advise you
to speak only to
supervisors, both at
the bank and at
Verizon, and take
down their names and
numbers so you can
verify that the funds
have been transferred
into your account and the
process is complete. C
© 2012 FIGH T BACK! INC. ALL RIGH TS RESERVED.
David Horowitz is a leading consumer advocate. Visit his blog at
www.fightback.com. He is a frequent guest on radio and television
stations. Consult your local listings for dates and times.
Just log on to
www.fightback.com and “Ask David.” For a fee, he will personally
respond to your problem if you follow the instructions printed on his website.
(Costco members receive a rebate off the normal fee.) Questions and answers of the
greatest interest to Costco members will be used in this column (with the permission
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