That Car You’re About to Buy Online May Not Exist

By on

Buying a car online sight unseen seems like a terrible idea. You can’t judge the condition from a few photos or a phone call.

Yet last year, scammers ripped off online car buyers for more than $64 million, the National White Collar Crime Center says. Every age group got taken, with complaints last year reaching 3,500. There were significantly fewer complaints from those under 18 and those over 60.

The big reason people fell for it? Price. “Even professionals in the automotive industry look for deals online and are not immune to fraud,” says CNBC, which goes on to recount the story of Tom Souter.

Souter, who runs a used car business in Texas and appears on CNBC’s show “The Car Chasers,” found a 1957 Chevy Bel Air Coupe available on eBay for $22,000. (Here’s one that sold for about $58,000 in March.) The ad and the seller seemed credible, and he researched the VIN, or Vehicle Identification Number, of the car. Because of its age, it didn’t have a standard 17-digit number and he couldn’t get a comprehensive report, but it did show up as a 2-door hardtop Chevy coupe. Sounds right.

Of course, it wasn’t. CNBC says Souter paid for the car and found out it didn’t exist. The seller was a scammer who just stole the VIN from somebody else’s expired eBay listing and pulled together some photos. Souter lucked out — eBay’s buyer protection policies reimbursed him most of the money, $20,000. But many sites don’t offer that, CNBC says.

There’s nothing wrong with using the Internet to research used cars. Sure, a lot of sellers stretch the truth about condition, but that’s why you go check them out and haggle. Watch the video below for our advice on shopping for reliable used cars:

How cheap would a car have to be for you to buy it without first getting a close-up look? Comment below or on our Facebook page.

Sign up for our free newsletter

Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free! We'll also email you a PDF of Stacy Johnson's "205 Ways to Save Money" as soon as you've subscribed. It's full of great tips that'll help you save a ton of extra cash. It doesn't cost a dime, so why wait? Click here to sign up now.

Check out our hottest deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 1,034 more deals!

Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.