Scary Online Scams… Car Buying!

Say you're in the market for a used car, and you do your research well. Clever as you are, you check not just eBay or Auto Trader, but also Yahoo! Autos, Craigslist and independent web-ads for cars with the features and price that fits your budget.

Then suddenly you come across the car you've been looking for… for ages. And better yet, it's thousands below the car's wholesale value. Excellent!

But the car is in another state. You'd have to buy it sight unseen. And you're leery. Why would the seller want to get rid of the car that cheaply? Is it in bad mechanical shape? Has it been in an accident? Stolen?

A couple of conversations with the seller later, you're feeling better. The guy is very cool. He's in the army and shipping off soon, deployed to Afghanistan. Not happy about it either, and not happy about selling his wheels, but his wife and kid need the money. The guy even sends you a pix of the family, and his Facebook postings support everything he's told you.

What's not to like about this? You're helping the guy's family and getting a deal! The guy's website offers free delivery and even provides a secured protection program that guarantees the safety of your transaction. The program holds your money until you're sitting in the driver's seat of your new set of wheels. Good.

You wire $8,000 and kick back and wait for delivery. And wait… and wait.

You try to call the guy again. The number no longer exists. Turns out it was a VOIP (voice over internet protocol) temporary number which is virtually impossible to trace. You head to the website that guaranteed the safety of your sale looking for a phone number you can call. There isn't a phone number on the site or a real street address. Just an email address… and no one answers your emails. And the Facebook postings? Are you kidding? Do you believe what strangers post on Facebook?

You just lost $8,000 of your hard earned money. What went wrong?

Buying a new set of wheels wisely can be tough, even when you're buying it from a neighbor. But buying vehicles wisely online is really, really tough. Don't even think about trying it without reviewing these pointers:

  • Do not buy a used vehicle online if you can't personally inspect it. Be extra careful; don't buy a vehicle without having a mechanic check it out first.
  • Be wary of unusually low prices. Compare the asking price to the car's wholesale value (you can look that up online). If the sales price is much lower than wholesale, watch out!Something is wrong.
  • Be wary of sellers who are in a hurry. Speed in any transaction can cost you money, but speed buying a vehicle online is virtually always deadly to your pocketbook and sanity.
  • Be wary of any website that doesn't give you an easy and clear way to contact them by phone. It might also be smart to call the number listed before you make the deal to verify it's a valid phone number. The site should also have a clearly displayed physical address.
  • Never deal with an online site without researching potential problems with the site. Search "problems with (the name of the site, or the sites web address)". Do this even with well-known sites.
  • Don't let a site's "guarantee" replace your research and caution. According to consumer advocate, Remar Sutton, even the biggest and most reputable car sites and guarantee programs have loopholes in their promises. So, check out the guarantee as carefully as you would check out the vehicle.

Make sense? If you found these online car tips helpful, why not read up on other scams, right here on our website?

Cheers, Will.

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