Warning on common car-selling scams

It pays to be aware of the potential to get ripped off when buying a vehicle.

When it comes to scams, you would think that the simplicity and brazenness of some of them would be enough to cause alarm bells to ring for any reasonably intelligent person.  But look at Queensland’s Office of Fair Trading’s web pages and it’s clear that this isn’t necessarily the case.   While there’s a huge variety of scams to choose from, here’s the top 10 motoring-related scams RACQ’s Motoring Advice team has come across recently.

The delivery scam 

A really desirable model is advertised for a really good price.  The seller is also really accommodating, offering to bring the car to you for inspection.  All you have to do is pay a deposit up front that will be refunded if you choose not to buy it. It should come as no surprise that once you pay the deposit, you’ll never see the car, or your money again. Tip: Don’t part with your money, even a small deposit, unless you’re sure it’s the car you want to buy. 

Buying sight unseen

While not necessarily a scam per se, buying sight unseen has the potential to go badly wrong.  But for some reason some people seem to think it’s a good idea, or at least an acceptable risk. 

Some of the fundamental problems are: 

  • How do you know the car really exists? 
  • If it does, is it in the condition described? 
  • Is it really the car you want? 
  • Is it what it claims to be?
  • Is it the advertiser’s car to sell?  

Tip: Our prime advice is just don’t do it.  But if you do choose to take the risk, at least understand that if something goes wrong there probably isn’t much anyone can do to help.

Car park sales

Have you ever considered that the seller’s kind offer to meet you in some central spot might be more than just a courteous act? If the seller suggests meeting in a park, shopping centre car park or similar, you need to consider if: 

  • They’re trying to conceal where they live
  • Your personal safety is at risk
  • They’re actually an unlicensed dealer 
  • The car is stolen (particularly if they try to rush the deal and ask for   payment in cash)

Tips:

  • Always consider your personal safety (particularly if carrying cash)
  • Take whatever precautions you consider necessary 
  • Don’t go alone
  • Don’t allow yourself to be rushed  
  • Do a Personal Property Security Register check before committing to the purchase 
  • If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is 

Road test drive-offs

Okay, so this isn’t a scam like the others.  It’s just plain theft.  But the outcome is the same – you lose. The common scenario is that during the road test the potential buyer comes up with a reason to pull over and get you out of the car.  This can be by force or on the pretext of looking at something.  The outcome is that you’re left standing at the roadside while your car drives away.

Tips: 

  • Always consider your personal safety
  • Take whatever precautions you consider necessary 
  • Take someone you trust with you on road tests  
  • You could also ask to hold the person’s licence during the road test or take a photo of it although, understandably, even a legitimate potential buyer may not be comfortable with this. 

Outstanding finance

Believe it or not, this still happens. Someone buys a car without doing the basic checks only to have it repossessed by a finance company because a previous owner still owes money on it.  

Tip: A $2 Personal Property Security Register check will tell you if the used car you’re looking at has a financial interest registered.  

Repairable write-offs

The unsuspecting buyer finds out after the fact that their new purchase is a repaired write-off.

Tip: This is another thing a PPSR check would have shown.

Statutory write-offs

This is a simple scam involving caravans. Buy a wrecked caravan from a salvage auction, tart it up, remove the original identifiers, register it as home-built and then sell it cheap to some unsuspecting victim.   

Tips: 

  • Check the ID plate.  If it shows home-built but it doesn’t look like it was, chances are it’s dodgy 
  • Always get a pre-purchase inspection

Leaving the country – must sell now

Common story elements can include:

  • The seller claims to be in the defence force, and is about to be deployed overseas 
  • They are leaving in the next couple of days and need to move the car quickly, so the price has been dropped dramatically.
  • There’s no time for an inspection or it’s in some inconvenient place so an inspection isn’t possible
  • They ask for the money to be transferred and they will arrange to have the car shipped to you

Tip: Just don’t do it, no matter how good the deal sounds.

Absent seller

The car is advertised at an attractive price.  It’s usually in some remote location so inspection isn’t easy, or possible.  And to make the story more interesting, the seller is often overseas, working on an oil rig etc. and isn’t easily contactable.

Tip: Again, just don’t do it, no matter how attractive it sounds. It isn’t worth the risk. 

Selling on behalf of a friend or relative

The usual story is that the owner is overseas and no longer has a need for the car so a friend or relative has been asked to sell it on their behalf. A complicating factor with this one is that there will be situations where someone is genuinely disposing of a car for someone else and it can be difficult to tell one from the other. The question you’re going to face is, how do you know if the person you’re dealing with actually has authority to sell the car and transact the deal?  

Tip: Unless you can be absolutely certain that you’re dealing with the owner’s authorised agent, you’ll be taking a huge risk that may result in you losing the car and your money.