Selling your car through an online classifieds site could get you more money than trading it in. But it could also make you an easy target for scammers posing as potential buyers.
If you’ve ever tried to sell a vehicle on Craigslist or another online marketplace, no doubt you’ve quickly received texts from people shortly after posting. These texts are usually from out-of-state numbers and the people texting seem to have similar stories. They are on vacation, but want to send someone to get the car, or they want you to use a delivery service to get the vehicle to them. These offers always sound fishy and raise red flags right away. I have received texts like this and always ignore them.
But a relatively new scam has popped up for those independently selling their cars that may not be so easy to spot.
My friend (we’ll call him John) listed his car for sale on a local classifieds website. He received a text from what seemed like a legitimate buyer asking questions about the car. The potential buyer, Henry, then asked John if he would send over the UVR papers. When John said he didn’t know what UVR meant, Henry texted a web address where John could get these papers to show information like recall, title and mileage verification. Henry mentioned he always bought and offered such reports when he sold vehicles online. John clicked on the website, paid $25 for the basic report and sent it to Henry. They set up a time to meet two days away. The very next day, Henry texted that he had a family emergency, needed to fly out of town and would let John know when he returned. John never heard from Henry again.
This scenario is annoying and cost John $25. But it got weirder from there.
Two of John’s colleagues were trying to sell their cars online around the same time. When he went in to work, one of them started telling a story of how he got duped by someone who texted him about buying his car, but demanded he purchase an auto vehicle report first. The story sounded familiar to John and to their third friend who had received the exact same texts.
As John and his two friends compared notes, they discovered each of their stories was identical. They all clicked on the website, paid $25 for a report and sent it. Shortly thereafter, the potential buyer ghosted each one of them.
The website they used to purchase these reports looks legitimate. The reports people can buy range from the basic $24.99 report up to a $220 executive option for reports on up to 50 vehicles. There is no phone number to reach the company, only a comment box.
I tried to text and call the number that allegedly belonged to Henry. The call is unable to go through. Shocker.
So at a minimum, these three men are out $25. At worst, cybercriminals now have their credit card and other personal information.
Although I’d never personally heard of this scam, the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau both warned about it more than a year ago.
“It might be a ruse to get your personal information, including your credit card account number,” according to the FTC. “It also could be a way for companies called ‘lead generators’ to get information, which they sell to third parties for advertising and marketing purposes.”
The Better Business Bureau reports that in some cases, one click on these websites could download malware on your computer.
None of those options are good.
To play it safe, find information about a vehicle’s current title and more at vehiclehistory.gov. It lists places you can get vehicle history reports that are approved by a division of the Department of Justice, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System.
Be wary any time a potential buyer asks you to purchase something from a specific website.
If scammers do get the best of you, report it. The Better Business Bureau, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Trade Commission all offer ways for you to file a complaint. That way, you’ll have a record of your grievance and you can pass along your wisdom (and wave a red flag) to others who find themselves in a similar situation.
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