Here’s How To Guard Against Online Car Sales Fraud

Estimated read time 3 min read

Scammers are fooling a lot of innocent victims lately.

Online car sales scams seem to be at an all-time high for whatever set of reasons. With plenty of people looking to get a deal as prices for used vehicles can still be a little on the high end, many are cruising Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and other listing sites for deals. Scammers know this and absolutely try to take advantage of your desire for something more affordable.

Meet the Portland man who’s helping track down stolen cars free of charge.

The problem is far too many people are getting tricked into handing their hard-earned money over for a stolen car. They see a title and everything seems fine, so they go ahead and close to deal. Sometimes that title looks legitimate enough it even fools the DMV. But eventually the deception is discovered and the victim loses the car and their money.

There are ways to guard against these scams. Most center around the VIN tags, which you can easily find on the dash and driver’s doorjamb. Look at those plates and see if they look bent or otherwise damaged, even just a little bit. Also, notice the screws holding the tags in place and see if they match. Both can be signs the VIN plates have been tampered with or replaced. There are few legitimate reasons to do this on a modern car.

After inspecting the plates, run the VIN using a free checker. We recommend using the one maintained by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Pay attention not only to the car’s record on there, which might indicate outright it’s been stolen, but also the year, make, and model of the vehicle.

If you’re especially suspicious the VIN plates have been swapped, check for the VIN stamped into the frame and engine block. If they don’t match the plates on the dash and driver’s doorjamb, you’re dealing with a fraudulent situation.

Looking at the title closely is another key. Read it for spelling errors or other mistakes, something thieves often include on fake titles. Ask to see the seller’s ID and make sure it matches the info on the title. It’s possible someone has found a way to get a legitimate title for a stolen vehicle, so this isn’t a failsafe method.

You can also ask to see service records for the car. Most people have at least some and that helps establish ownership. Running a vehicle history report through Carfax or similar services is another option.

Ultimately, if a seller is pushy, the deal seems too good to be true, and you get a funny feeling, it’s good to trust your gut and walk away. We’ve seen newer Dodge Hellcats listed for sale online at prices below $10,000 and can be certain those weren’t legitimate deals. But we also would bet someone fell for the trap, if not multiple people.

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