Used car checker HPI has warned that an increasing number of used car buyers are falling victim to a number of internet-based scams, which have become increasingly popular as more car buyers find and compare cars online.
The non-existent car
According to HPI, an increasingly popular trick is the ‘Virtual Car Seller’ or ‘Escrow Con’. It starts with an advert on a website, with a seller who has a car for sale at a knock-down price. The seller is usually based abroad and claims they need a fast sale, so the vehicle is already with a shipping company. Without viewing the car, the buyer is asked to transfer money to a third-party (‘escrow’), who will hold it until the vehicle is delivered.
Nicola Johnson, HPI’s Consumer Service Manager, says that you should consider how you would behave if you were selling a car:
“Never buy a vehicle you’ve never even seen. It’s easy to be swayed by a rock bottom price, but no bargain is worth the risk. Put yourself in the seller’s position: would you ship the car to a buyer at your own expense, sell it cheaply, and offer to ship it back at your own expense if the buyer doesn’t like it? HPI sees frauds like this on a depressingly regular basis. An HPI Check is crucial in protecting consumers against the threat of falling victim to this fraud.”
Another potential danger when buying a used car online is ‘cloning’ – identity theft for cars. Criminals steal a car and give it a new identity copied from a similar vehicle already on the road. The criminal will disguise the unique 17 digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the stolen car, as well as using a stolen V5/logbook to try to legitimise its identity.
Nicola Johnson adds:
“This scam is commonly used by online sellers, and consumers who buy a clone stand to lose the car and their money, once the vehicle is returned to the rightful owner.”
Essential Car-Buying Tips
HPI has put together these tips to help used car buyers steer clear of clone, con men and other assorted nasties of the used car world:
- Shop Around – compare prices on the car you’re considering through other classified website so you get a feel for the marketplace. These sites will give you an idea of the price you can expect to pay for a particular make and model. If you find a vehicle that appears to be cheap, you need to find out why, and be on your guard.
- Verify the Seller’s Credibility – check out the seller’s history by reviewing the ratings from other sellers to ensure you’re dealing with someone who will deliver the car according to the terms you are offered.
- Always Arrange to Test-Drive the Car – arrange to meet the seller in person at a safe location – preferably at their home address if buying privately, to test-drive a model of the car you’re considering. Make sure you put the car through its paces by driving on a variety of roads and don’t just take it for a spin around the block.
- Before you part with your cash, make sure you cross reference the VIN with the VRM to make sure they match. Don’t buy a car without doing a HPI Check first.
- Paying Online – if you’re buying online, or even just making a deposit, ensure that the website is secure – pay with a credit card which will help should the worst happen – in the event of fraud.
I couldn’t agree more, and would recommend you always follow this advice (and get an HPI check) when buying a used car. I’ve used the HPI service before and it is both simple and very reassuring, even if you don’t think there’s a problem.
Tip: Many reputable dealers will include a HPI Check with the sale of this car. If any refuse, do it yourself or walk away — there’s no reason that a reputable dealer would refuse to certify their cars as ‘clean’.