How to avoid the most common car buying scams

Shady sellers will fraudulently advertise cars that don’t exist

However savvy a buyer or seller you think you are, there’ll always be someone with a new, ‘sophisticated’ scam aimed at ripping you off. It’s worth being aware of the most common cheats, cons and swindles – so consumer website Honest John has released some tips on how to avoid them…

Cloned cars

Some thieves apply genuine identities to stolen cars, changing number plates and even the vehicle identification numbers (VINs) so that unsuspecting buyers think the motor is genuine.

This could leave you being out of pocket and without a car, when the police confiscate it.

How to avoid it: Always carry out a full vehicle history check and triple check the service history to make sure the colour, mileage, engine size and any distinguishing features are the same. If you’re even remotely unsure – walk away.

Fake mileage

A high mileage is likely to put you off buying a car, because they can often have mechanical problems associated with heavy wear and tear. While new vehicles are more difficult to ‘clock’, it’s not impossible.

How to avoid it: Check the car’s full vehicle history, or better yet, carry out an HPI check.

Vehicle matching

A common scam is for cold callers to contact vendors and say they’re acting as a ‘vehicle matching agent’. They will claim to have a buyer and ask for an up-front fee. This buyer won’t exist and will just leave you out of pocket.

How to avoid it: Refuse anyone who cold calls you offering this service and don’t submit to the hard sell – these fraudsters are great at it.


Fraudsters who seem legitimately interested in buying a car will sometimes pay for it using stolen details – often a credit card or phoney account. Telling you they have “accidentally” overpaid you, they’ll ask you to refund the extra. They then withdraw the original payment, and you’re left out of pocket for the refund.

How to avoid it: Avoid overseas buyers or anyone who is willing to buy your car without seeing it. If you’re ever overpaid for the vehicle, cancel the transaction and ask them to resend.

Virtual vehicle scam

Selling high-demand makes and models, unscrupulous fake sellers make advertised cars look appealing, often selling for slightly lower than the going rate and with great mileage. They will ask you to transfer money – sometimes a large deposit – without even seeing the car. Once you’ve parted with your cash, you’ll then realise it doesn’t exist.

How to avoid it: Make sure you’ve seen the vehicle before handing over any money. If you’re buying from an overseas vendor, make sure they’re reputable and recommended.

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