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Shopping for a car online? Steer clear of swindles

If you're looking for a used car, be sure the one you're considering actually exists. The Better Business Bureau offers tips for keeping safe online and being sure the 'deal' you're pursuing is real.

By Mitch Lipka Jul 3, 2013 12:12PM
Couple shopping for car © Medio Images, Getty ImagesYour old jalopy just isn't cutting it anymore. Too many things are going wrong and it's time to get a better set of wheels. You're not in the market for a new car, so the search is on for a reliable used car.

With so many websites listing cars for sale, it's easy to get lulled by a slick design and believable endorsements.

Unfortunately, fraudulent ads and car selling sites are still out there -- the FBI issued a warning in 2011 -- and the Better Business Bureau is once again consumers to stay clear of them.

In most cases, car buyers are drawn to the scam ads because they feature cars selling for considerably less than they are being sold for elsewhere. The ads often don't have pictures with them, so you are told to get in touch with the seller if you'd like to see the vehicle.

This is where it all goes downhill.

"You open the email, look at the photos and click on a link in the message," the BBB warning said. "You are now looking at a scam website. It's a reproduction of the original website where you saw the car ad . . . with one big difference."

That difference, according to the BBB, is that "con artists control every aspect of it." That means they are the "escrow service," the support desk and anything else you might contact on a site.
To make matters worse, the BBB said, the photos that are being sent actually have malware embedded in them that get your browser to go to the phony site.

The scam is given an air of legitimacy through the use of the phony escrow service. The idea is that your money is being safely held until you get your car. In reality, though, once the money is paid, it's over. You've lost your cash and no more responses will be received from anyone associated with the site.

Here are some tips from the BBB about how to identify a scam car deal:
  • The price just seems too low -- a lot lower than you've seen for a comparable car elsewhere. (Beware of back stories attempting to explain the low price, such as a sudden military deployment or job transfer.)
  • A seller who wants to make a quick deal. Con artists want you to act on the spur of the moment and don't want to you be able to involve a professional to examine the vehicle -- since it doesn't exist.
  • A request that you pay via a money wiring service such as Western Union of MoneyGram. Credit cards and checks are common tender in car deals -- not wiring money.
  • If you call the seller or email asking for their location and they won't tell you or are evasive, you're likely dealing with a fake.
  • If you use an escrow service, be sure it's one that is established and legitimate.

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1Comment
Jul 3, 2013 1:41PM
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better yet, avoid making any large purchase on-line.  you NEVER KNOW what your truly getting, (if anything)  if it's a car, don't you want to test drive it and have a mechanic check it out? 
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