Tips & Advice
Deceptive sellers target online car shoppers. How to avoid being ripped off.
Presented by Larry Larsen, Director of Cyber Security
Over the years the car buying process has evolved with 88% of car buyers using the Internet to shop. From auto dealerships and CarsDirect to Craigslist, there's no denying the online car market has exploded.
This new digital shopping experience, although quite convenient, in some cases can be risky if you don't do your homework. Every day unsuspecting consumers continue to find themselves ripped off by online con men selling junk cars and requesting payment via wire transfers.
Autotrader reports that third-party sites are the most used sites for car shopping, used by 78% of shoppers.
As you might expect, this hot car market attracts many unruly cyber criminals — looking for ways to exploit your automotive wants and needs, using spoofed websites and blatant deception get their hands on your hard-earned cash.
Much of the online automotive marketplace is focused on "pre-owned" vehicles and secondhand prices have climbed to the point that cash deals are becoming few and far between. As a result, online scams targeting used car buyers and their financing needs have become commonplace.
One of the classic cons involving used car transactions is the seller insisting on you wiring money via services like Western Union or Moneygram or accepting only cash. Three words: DON'T DO IT.
Knowing who you're buying from is equally important as what you're buying.
Stick to well-known dealers, with good reputations. If their website address doesn't start with https:, go see them in person. Apple's free car buying service, for example, offers another reliable option for new and used cars. It's a great resource to search and price your vehicle. Plus, you know you're working with a local certified dealer.
If you're in the midst of making an online purchase, never share your personal financial information or Social Security Number on a credit application before you've confirmed that you're buying from a legitimate seller.
Don't fall for the 'escrow' scam. In this scenario, a fake seller posts an online ad with a link to a third-party agent who will supposedly handle the exchange of funds for the vehicle. Everything looks legitimate, but the escrow agent is as fake as the vehicle. Typically, by the time the you realize it's fraud, your money is long gone and you're left with an empty driveway and pocket.
It's always best to meet the buyer at their bank and watch the payment – either a bank check or wire transfer – prepared and executed in front of you. If you decide to accept cash, a check or a money order, it's at your own risk, but make sure you do the actual transfer at a public site. Many police and fire stations now have posted areas of the parking lot where people can meet to complete online sales safely and under watchful eyes.
Next time you're in the market to buy a car, get your financing in order, do your research and beware of "too good to be true" deals. No car deal is too good to walk away from, especially if you suspect fraud.