5 must follow rules to protect you from fraud when buying a car

The cost of living crisis has provided an opportunity for criminals. Used car prices remain high and many of us looking to buy our next car have less disposable income. Cue the fake dealer or broker who lures those in need of a cheap motor, takes everything and then disappears. This is typical of the many fraudulent scams that operate in today’s used car market.

Follow our 5 rules below and protect yourself from car buying scams.

1. Price too good to be true? It probably is

Toy car held in a basket
Toy car held in a basket

Criminals will often look to sell dodgy cars by pricing them low to attract buyers often on online selling platforms such as Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Gumtree etc. Of course if the car is stolen then any amount of money paid for it will lead to profit for the seller. Do some basic price research on websites first. If one car is priced much lower than others that have equivalent spec/condition, without justification, then avoid it. Total Car Check provides a vehicle valuation in its Gold Check which gives a good indication as to what the market value of a vehicle is.

2. Check the car is legitimate

Two rusting clapped out cars in wasteland
Two rusting clapped out cars in wasteland

You can do this initially by buying a full vehicle history check such as a Total Car Check Gold Check. Amongst many other insights, this will tell you if the car holds outstanding finance, has been stolen, was previously written off or scrapped – information you can’t find any other way. Many vehicle check products, including a Gold Check, also come with data guarantees that protect consumers making checks.

3. Check the seller is legitimate

If you are purchasing the vehicle from a retailer or broker make sure you check them out first. Have a look at their website and ensure they publish their customers’ reviews, and that these are positive. If the firm has a poor website and a search engine search returns very little about them then be wary.

4. Always view and test drive the car

Couple in car being handed keys to test drive
Couple in car being handed keys to test drive

This is really important. It might sound rather basic, but if you are buying a car privately from an individual or from a retailer make sure you view the car in person first. Why?

  • To make sure the car is for sale – a fairly common scam in recent years is where fraudsters set up fake websites with fake ads looking to make online sales. A potential buyer calls the firm to enquire about the ad only to be met by a fraudster pushing for payment up front in order to arrange the delivery of the vehicle. The car you thinking you’re buying could be a picture from an old ad copied from another website. Making sure the car does exist and is actually for sale is a basic but very important check in the age of the internet.
  • To check it has not been stolen – following on from section 3. It is important to use the viewing process as an opportunity to check the vehicle for signs of cloning or ringing. These are practices used by criminals to help disguise stolen vehicles. A test drive also enables you to establish if there are any signs of mechanical fault and that the vehicle drives as you would expect it to.

5. Never pay in advance

Probably the most important of all five steps. You can’t lose anything if you don’t make a payment. Always make sure you have the keys and access to the vehicle before you pay. Never pay a deposit or any fee in advance. There are so many consumers that have lost their money this way.

Online retailers

The only exception under steps 4. and 5. is where you are looking to buy from a large reputable online retailer offering a 7 or 14 day guaranteed returns/collection policy if you don’t like the vehicle. They will also take payment up front. Examples include Cazoo, Cinch and Heycar.

See our detailed used vehicle buyer advice web page for more information about how to buy a car safely.

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