National Consumers League

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NCL Personal Finance Issues

Car shopping?

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In the market for a car? Beware used car scamsIn the market for a new car? Be on the lookout for unscrupulous sellers looking to take you for a ride!

In response to an increase in consumer complaints to the National Consumers League’s Fraud Center, and with the arrival of the upcoming peak car-buying season, consumer advocates are warning that car shoppers this spring should consider themselves at an increased risk of falling victim to a scam.

“Scam artists prey on consumers in search of a bargain, and these scams are no exception,” said John Breyault, Director of NCL’s Fraud Center. “Unfortunately, the only person that’s getting a steal are the con artists themselves.”

Since the beginning January 2011, NCL’s Fraud Center has received more than 100 complaints from consumers nationwide about these scams, with a total reported loss of nearly $293,674.

The used car scams reported to NCL generally involve a classified listing on any of a number of popular sales and auction sites such as craigslist, Yahoo! Autos, or eBay. The listings are generally for late-model automobiles, often luxury brands, at well below market value. In the schemes, when the victim contacts the scammer, they are told that the seller is not local and that payment for the car itself or for shipment of the car should be sent via wire transfer to the seller. Often, the seller claims to be a member of the armed services who is either already deployed or preparing to deploy. As such, quick payment is necessary to ensure that the buyer receives the “great deal” on the car.

NCL recommends consumers avoid used car sales with the following red flags:

  • The seller asks for payment via wire transfer or bank-to-bank transfer.
  • The car is listed at a price far below common market values (such as Kelley Blue Book value).
  • The seller asks for payment urgently since they are or will soon be relocating overseas.
  • The seller says that they are located overseas, but they have an American middleman or online escrow service that will hold the money until the vehicle is delivered.
  • The seller refuses to meet in person or communicate on the phone.
  • The seller’s email or instant messages contain multiple grammar and spelling errors.
  • The seller claims that the transaction is insured by a “protection program” associated with a real site (such as eBay, Google Checkout, PayPal, etc.) or another online payment system.

Victims of these or any other frauds are encouraged to file a complaint at www.fraud.org.