Motorists are once again being warned about online used vehicle sales scams, with the sheer volume of such incidents said to have increased significantly in recent months.
And with fraudsters reportedly becoming more sophisticated to the point of creating convincing fake dealer websites, the potential for getting caught out is greater than ever – especially when it comes to niche vehicles.
The heads-up comes from Mycarcheck.com, which holds comprehensive data on every vehicle on UK roads. Mark Bailey, Head of CDL Vehicle Information Systems, which owns mycarcheck.com, said: “The sheer volume of online scams is off the chart this summer, with seasonal favourites like convertibles, camper vans and motorhomes being targeted.
“The staff at our Glasgow call centre speak to used car buyers every day, often when they’re about to transfer money, so we have our finger very much on the pulse when it comes to the latest scams. From early this year we saw a significant rise in fraudulent online adverts, but from May onwards it really ramped up.
“Sophisticated con artists, often operating in organised criminal gangs, can create scam adverts very quickly and on an industrial scale, even setting up whole fake dealer websites. At first glance, they look realistic; they cut and paste wording from genuine adverts and add features like make and model searches to appear more convincing.”
Here at Classics World, we’ve seen countless occurrences where such scams have extended to the classic car market. Although there are no specific figures, it stands to reason that the classics are amongst the most vulnerable targets – with rising prices, many buyers are looking to beat the system by finding cheap deals. And with certain models so rare and desirable, they’re more likely to ignore the rules in order to secure what they see as a one-off opportunity. Excitement and desperation levels increase, and so do the pitfalls.
An increasingly common scam is when an advert is put online for a ‘virtual vehicle’ cloned from a legitimate source, and hence shows up as HPI clear. It will usually be priced below market average to attract buyers, but not always by much so as to not be too obvious. The seller then sets about getting the victim to part with cash by way of a deposit or even full price to secure the ‘bargain’.
Transferring a large deposit to a hold a vehicle because the seller “has received a lot of calls” can be all too tempting. And with searches likely to be cast further and wider to find a specific model, the likelihood of buying blind and transferring large sums of money increases. Either way, the seller then disappears without trace after pocketing the cash for goods they’ve never owned.
In the past communication was generally conducted by email but more recently scammers are talking to their victims on the phone or even face to face, and can be extremely convincing. Many will research facts about the car they’re pretending to sell, making identification of unscrupulous parties even harder.
Back in April we reported on a typical case concerning a bogus Cortina estate advert found on Gumtree. Using photographs and details from the website of action house DT Mathewson, the advert had the car priced at £2000, despite it fetching over £6000 when sold at auction. Fortunately, the potential owner smelt a rat. “He had spotted a bargain but wasn’t quite fooled and did his homework first – I put him straight and steered him well clear of the ad,” said Mathewson’s Sarah Crabtree. “Within half an hour the ad had been removed, but these bogus ads seem to be prolific on the web and unfortunately some people are suckered into handing over their hard-earned cash.”
Our advice is to research typical values of the cars you’re looking for, and follow the mantra of ‘if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is’. That said, not all cheap cars are fraudulent. There are still legitimate bargains out there, albeit rare, which only serve to help the fraudster out as they take advantage of a widespread desire from buyers to beat the system.
So what can you do to avoid being caught out? The common denominator amongst all these scams is that fraudsters want your money, so think hard before you send any – even the smallest amounts. Bank accounts that seem legitimate could have been hijacked by the fraudster without the true account holder’s knowledge. Be wary of strange payment requests, links providing payment details, overseas transfers and email address that contain a series of numbers rather than easily identifiable names.
Never use Western Union to transfer unless you know and trust the other party, and don’t be afraid to ask the vendor for identification either – that way anything that doesn’t add up can be quickly identified.
If you suspect something’s amiss in an online auction, another handy tip is click the ‘view other items’ box to see how many other listings a seller has, as many scammers will be offering lots of things at once. Also be wary of sellers with low feedback, but be aware that sometimes a scammer will hack into a legitimate account, so you’ll need to use other means to catch them out.
Even using a verifiable home address and name doesn’t mean a seller is genuine. At the end of July the BBC reported on an address in Caithness, Scotland, being part of a second–hand vehicle con. At least five people had visited looking for cars they believed they had bought, travelling large distances from London, Manchester and Ireland. One victim was even sent documents from the seller, including a copy of a driving licence showing a person living at the address near Thurso.
In this case, the case was slightly different, as the victim had been conned into paying for the car using a fake website set up to look like eBay’s official site. Tell-tale signs that a website is not the real thing include the url showing multiple sub domains, and the site’s address not having the padlock sign to indicate that it’s secure.
Perhaps most importantly of all, make sure you see the car and its documents before parting with any cash unless you’re absolutely sure it’s genuine and you can trust the seller – even a simple Google of the numberplate can pay dividends. If in any doubt, just walk away from the deal. Buying a classic can still be a pleasurable experience; you just need to be more vigilant than ever to ensure what you’re buying isn’t the products of a scammer’s imagination.