Don’t hand money on a plate to second-hand car scammers

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It’s a busy time of year for the used car market. The new number plate came out on March 1, and that always provides a boost for second-hand car sales as people trade up their old vehicle for a new model.

It’s also a busy time of year for second-hand car scammers – the sorts of people who will try and flog you a dodgy used motor. Roger Powell of MyCarCheck, a firm which provides vehicle data to consumers, says we need to be alert: “When buying a secondhand car it is important to be aware of the risks. Many vehicles offered for sale will have a far from perfect history. Others will be outright crooked.” It doesn’t exactly inspire you with confidence, does it?

Verification process

MyCarCheck is one of those firms you can ask to verify whether a second-hand car has actually been scrapped, written-off or stolen. It can also delve into a car’s finance history - and in February 32% of the firm’s finance checks flagged up a potential problem – usually outstanding finance being secured against the vehicle. This is serious because, in such a case, the car does not actually belong to the person selling it, but to the financial institution which has extended the original loan. So you, as the buyer, could end up seriously out of pocket – and possibly without a car – if you shake on the deal, because the lender would be within its rights to claim the car to cover its position. MyCarCheck has identified the five other common used car scams.

(Bear in mind that most concern private sales. There is greater protection if you buy your car from a registered dealer.)

Sub hiring

Here’s how this scam works... The seller admits there is outstanding finance on the vehicle but promises to keep up the payments. It sounds reasonable, but the buyer does not have a legal leg to stand on. If the seller stops the payments, the finance company could seize the vehicle.

Deposit security

Some fraudsters con buyers into handing over a big deposit to secure the vehicle. They might tell you of a “definite buyer” who’s coming in an hour, or warn that the car is advertised cheaply for a quick sale. Don’t fall for such pressure tactics. The seller could easily disappear, along with your deposit.

Hire cars

Demands for a deposit also feature in the growing number of scams that offer hire cars for sale. The fraudster will hire a car and then ‘sell’ it to as many buyers as possible within a short time period and pocket all the deposits. He’ll then return the car to the hire firm and never be seen again.


Escrow fraud is one of the oldest scams in the book. It can take many different guises, but it commonly involves a UK vehicle being offered for sale from abroad, or the promise to ship a vehicle into the UK from abroad once the funds are paid into a holding account (from whence they disappear in thin air). Escrow fraud is usually committed online, so watch out for suspicious emails.


Swap scams are increasingly popular, and again are usually perpetrated online. Let’s say you put your car up for sale on the internet. A fraudster will express an interest in the vehicle and suggest a tempting swap. Unfortunately, the car will often come with outstanding finance or it might even be stolen, leaving you sorely out of pocket.

Data checks

Companies such as MyCarCheck can confirm a car’s credentials using police data and information from the DVLA, insurers and finance firms. Such services aren’t free, but they could prevent a more expensive mistake. The most important message is that you should keep your wits about you, too. The secondhand car market is a scammer’s paradise. So trust your gut feeling – if a deal looks too good to be true, guess what? Oh, and never pay cash. That just making life easy for the crooks.

Ever fallen victim to a second-hand car scam? Let us know in the box below – you could help someone else avoid falling victim…

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