Buyer beware - the most common car scams

Buying a new car

Updated Thursday, January 7, 2016


The festive period is a bad time for car sales, which means this time of year it can be a great time to get a good price on a new motor.

Not only are dealers are more likely to be open to offers as they try to get stock out of the door to hit their quarterly sales targets - you could even use the new registrations coming out at the start of March as an extra bargaining tool. So far, so good, but there could be a spanner in the works as criminals tend to double their efforts at this time of year, wise to the fact there are plenty of car-buyers to be conned. So to help you avoid falling victim, MyCarCheck, the online vehicle checking service, has identified some of the most common scams…

Scandalous car scams

  1. Online escrow

    This is when you’re informed that the vehicle is currently abroad and will be shipped as soon as money is paid into an ‘escrow’ holding account. My Car Check advice: Don’t do it. You’re unlikely to ever see your money again, and the police will be unable to investigate as you ‘willingly’ transferred the funds.
  1. Stolen/cloned vehicles

    Criminals steal a car and change the number plates to disguise it, so you now have two vehicles with the same superficial identity driving around. My Car Check advice: Check the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) as well as the plates. Look at the left side of the windscreen underneath where the old tax disc would go.
  1. Not theirs to sell

    A quarter of cars on UK roads are covered by a finance agreement such as hire purchase, lease, PCP or bill of sale. The finance provider often retains legal ownership until the debt is cleared. My Car Check advice: Don’t enter into agreements where you pay the seller on the understanding that they’ll use the money to clear the finance – that’s sub-hiring and it is illegal. Most finance companies now accept third party payments directly from potential purchasers, leaving the seller with the remaining balance.
  1. Cash deals in car parks

    If you agree to hand over cash at a neutral location, such as a car park, that could be music to a criminal’s ears. Once they’re gone, they’re usually gone for good. My Car Check advice: Completing the handover at the seller’s address, which should match that on the red and blue V5C, is good practice. ‘No log book, no sale’ is another golden rule.

It’s also worth being cautious if the car only comes with one key. Although this is the case with a lot of older used cars at the bottom end of the market, it could be that the seller is a criminal who will hang on to the other key – and will use it to steal back the car once you’ve paid for it. Although these scams present a very real risk to buyers, don’t let it put you off buying a new car - you can cut the chances of buying a stolen car by carrying out a few simple checks…

How to reduce the risk

It’s always best to approach buying a used car with caution, especially when dealing with a private seller, but you can reduce the risk by carrying out a few simple checks.

  1. Check the vehicle’s details

Before you go to see the vehicle, ask the seller for the registration number, make, model, and MOT number and use DVLA’s online vehicle enquiry service to check that the details you’ve been given match their records. You can also Check that the vehicle’s MOT is up to date, and the MOT history matches the details you’ve been given.

  1. Check it’s not been stolen

Use a service like MyCarCheck or HPI Check to find out whether the vehicle has been written off, recorded as stolen or has any outstanding finance.

  1. Check the paperwork

Ask to see the V5C vehicle registration certificate, also known as the log book, and make sure it has a ‘DVL’ watermark, and the serial number isn’t between BG8229501 to BG9999030, or BI2305501 to BI2800000. If it is, the V5C might be stolen - call the police as soon as it’s safe to. Most new V5Cs are red but some older ones may not be - to check the V5C is the latest issued use the DVLA vehicle enquiry service. Make sure the details in the log book match the details you’ve been given. Check that the vehicle identification number (usually found on the chassis or on one of the door pillars) and engine number match the details in the log book.

Don’t forget the tax can’t be passed on as part of the sale and so you’ll need to tax the vehicle before you use it or declare the vehicle is off the road by making a SORN. And remember, criminals operate all year round, so always be vigilant when buying a car, don’t be afraid to walk away, and trust your instincts – if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.

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