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How to Avoid Fraud When Buying a Car Online

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Although online car purchasing is a growing trend, it poses some unique security risks for consumers. Like with any online shopping experience, there’s always the potential hazard of scams.

As Edmunds.com contributor Caroll Lachnit shared with USA Today, online car buying scams happen more than you might think. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, consumers have lost more than $54 million as of December 2017.

The fraud scenarios occur when individuals create fake car ads cloned from actual vehicle listings. They link to a clone of a real site such as Edmunds or Escrow.com, as well as other reputable brands in the auto industry, to give the illusion that the fake sites are legitimate. The criminals rely on consumers’ faith in the innate legitimacy of online transactions to fuel their fraudulent online car buying scams.

Here are some cybersecurity strategies to help avoid fraud while still enjoying the convenience of purchasing a vehicle online.


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Check any shopping or escrow site’s URL

It URL should be in the format of company name followed by the domain. The domain should appear right after the company’s name. For example, a fake eBay Motors website might have an unusual ending to the URL: https://www.ebay.com/motors/carsandtrucksus.info-vehicle.com.

Insist on in-person

Anonymity is a scam artist’s best friend. So, one easy way to protect yourself from shady criminals is to avoid sellers who refuse to talk over the phone or meet in person. Another red flag is if they refuse to let you physically inspect the vehicle before you commit to pay for it.

Check site links

Just because a seller provides you with a site link, doesn’t mean that the link is legitimate. Enter the company’s name directly into your browser’s field to visit the site, to ensure that it provides the services it claims to.

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Protect your personal information

Avoid giving out personal information or your financial information until you’ve verified that the online escrow company you’re using is a valid one.

Be cautious of pushy sellers

It’s common for a fraudulent car seller to push you to complete the purchase for the car as fast as possible. Another warning sign is that they ask for an unusual form of payment like iTunes cards, gift cards, or money sent via a direct bank transfer.

Beware of unrealistically low prices

Check the car’s advertised price with an online car valuation tool from reputable sources such as Kelley Blue Book or NADAguides. If a car is listed at a price that seems to be “too good to be true,” then it’s likely a scam.

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News Source: USA Today, eBay Motors