Losses in online car buying scams can be enormous


QUINCY — If you’re looking to buy a car online, make sure you do your research first.

BBB has received reports from consumers who have come across fake cars listed on online marketplaces, or even fake websites that imitate licensed sellers.

BBB just released an update to a 2020 study about online car buying scams. Starting in 2020, consumers reported that scammers were taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to list fake vehicles on real online marketplaces, tricking customers into paying for a non-existent car. Reports to BBB about this type of scam increased in 2023.

In recent years, fraudsters have focused more on targeting high-end classic car collectors and creating fake websites that imitate real, licensed car vendors’ websites. These look-a-like websites use stolen photos, contact information and even vehicle identification numbers (VIN) to fool consumers.

Scammers are also exploiting vehicle history reports to steal money and personal information. Some have created fake vehicle history lookup websites that ask people to provide money or personal information.

Losses in online car buying scams can be enormous, especially when fraudsters target customers looking for rare classic cars. Between 2021-2023, consumers reported a $12,600 median loss in fraudulent vehicle sale and escrow scams and a $45 median loss in fake vehicle report scams.

When shopping for a car online, take a few proactive steps to make sure you’re working with a legitimate seller. You can always research sellers at BBB.org to see their track record, rating and whether they’re BBB Accredited.

BBB’s tips for buying a car online:

  • Do not purchase a vehicle report on your own vehicle for an interested buyer
  • View a vehicle in-person if possible, or send someone you trust
  • Be wary of too-good-to-be-true prices
  • Opt for vehicle pick-up over delivery whenever possible
  • Resist high-pressure sales tactics urging quick action
  • Use only approved Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) lookup websites

If you think you’ve been impacted by an online car buying scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker SM.

Check out BBB.org/scamstudies for more on this and other scams.

Don O’Brien is the regional director for the Quincy Better Business Bureau. Contact him at dobrien@quincybbb.org or (217) 209-3972

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