Fraudsters target online buyers

The car-buying market is fraught with mistrust, to the point where even the most scrupulous of salesmen is viewed with suspicion. But the sad fact is, you always need to be alert to the possibility of falling victim of a scam, particularly if a deal looks too good to be true.


And that’s exactly what is happening to a growing number of car buyers who are falling foul of the ‘virtual vehicle’ scam – particularly those buyers who mistakenly think some online payment systems will afford them the same financial protection you automatically get when you use a credit card.

What is the virtual vehicle scam?

The virtual vehicle scam hooks in unsuspecting car buyers by placing an advert on a motoring site offering a great deal, often a top-of-the range model at a knock-down price for a quick sale, from a UK-based seller. However, the seller will then concoct a plausible-sounding story as to why buyer can’t view the car before purchase. This could be because the vehicle is supposedly being transported from another part of the country or even being shipped-in from abroad. Some of these scams are even set up on fake shipping websites that promise to handle your money and lead you through the transaction. All this is done to disguise the fact there is no car. Those who fall for the ruse and make a payment will find their money has cleared into the fraudster’s account long before they realise they’ve been had. And, in a new variation on the theme, crooks are playing on people’s naivety when it comes to online payment methods, such as Google Wallet, which do not offer as much online protection as you might expect. [embed width="560" height="315"] [/embed] For instance, although Google Wallet Purchase Protection covers all eligible unauthorised transactions reported within 180 days of purchase, this protection is designed to prevent money being taken from your account without your knowledge or consent. If you willingly transfer your money across, there’s often little that can be done about it. If you pay by credit card, however, you’ll be protected under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, which holds the credit card provider jointly liable for any goods or services that are bought and arrive faulty or fail to arrive at all. A look at PayPal’s buyer protection policy indicates that it also offers protection for goods that don’t arrive or match the description as long as claims are made within 45 days of the transaction being made.

Tips to avoid being scammed

Although payment protection does exist to make sure you’re reimbursed in the event of a scam, there’s still the hassle and worry factors if something goes awry. The best form of protection is to not go ahead with any purchases that don’t feel right or seem too good to be true. This means not handing money over to someone you don’t know for a vehicle you’ve not seen. However, buying a car is a very emotive process, and if you see the car of your dreams being advertised at a price you can afford then all common sense can quickly go out the window. So it’s always worth carrying out an HPI check that will not only confirm that the vehicle in question actually exists, but also whether it is currently recorded as being stolen (if you buy a stolen car then you’ll lose the car and you’re money), whether the car has been written off, and whether it has any outstanding finance against it. The process also includes a mileage check against the National Mileage Register, to make sure the car’s not been ‘clocked’, and it offers a £40,000 guarantee in the event that the information provided in the check is inaccurate. And you should put yourself in the position of the seller and ask yourself a couple of questions:
  1. Would you sell your vehicle well below market price and include shipping expenses?
  2. Would you ask a complete stranger buying a car in the street for thousands pounds of their money while they wait for another complete stranger to deliver it?
If the answer is no, then step away from the sale. If it’s yes, you should probably get out of the buying and selling business!
Have you seen any suspicious-looking car sales online? Or have you, or someone you know, ever fallen foul of a fraudster? Let us know in the boxes below...

Did you enjoy that? Why not share this article