Online car shoppers use Web sites like eBay Motors, Craigslist and Edmunds to find the perfect car. However, the Internet has also become a resource for scammers, according to the National Consumers League (NCL), which saw an increase in scam-related consumer complaints during the first quarter of 2011.
The NCL received more than 100 automotive-related consumer complaints between January 1 and March 22. The combined reported losses totaled $293,000.
“Consumers need to protect themselves from unscrupulous sellers,” said Eric Widmer, vice-president of sales and operations for AiM Mobile Inspections, a national inspection service.
In the used car segment, two products exist to provide protection and information for consumers: used vehicle inspections and the vehicle history report. Use these tools to combat scams:
• Online sales — These used car scams involve a classified listing on sales and auction sites.
The listings are generally for late-model automobiles at well below market value. In the scheme, when the victim contacts the scammer, they are told that the seller is not local and that payment for the car or for vehicle shipping should be sent via wire transfer to the seller.
Solution: Request to have the vehicle inspected to verify that the car exists. A seller who refuses to meet in person is a red flag.
A second rule of thumb: Never wire money for a sales transaction.
• VIN Tampering — Vehicle identification number tampering has become more popular as crooked sellers try to hide unflattering information. Shady sellers have been known to search through parking lots for a car with the same make, model and color, copy its VIN and use that information to obtain a bogus history report for the car they’re selling.
Solution: A professional vehicle inspection will uncover VIN tampering.
• Unreported collision damage — Inevitably a dealership or body shop will end up with a car that’s been in a collision. For any number of reasons, information about a collision goes unreported.
Solution: A professional vehicle inspector knows the tell-tale signs of accident repair, whether it’s from overspray, new parts, non-factory welds, unpainted bolts or unaligned body panels.
• Title Washing — Transferring a once-salvaged vehicle, such as a car that’s been flood-damaged or totaled, to a state with more lenient title laws. When the state issues a new title, it may no longer show that it had been salvaged.
Solutions: Once a vehicle has been branded and that information is reported, it remains in that state’s records no matter how many states the car is sold in.
While the current title may no longer indicate severe damage or a salvage brand, a vehicle history report will.