How to Spot a Scam When Buying a Used Car

Buying a used car is never a simple process. Doing research, creating a budget, negotiating—all these steps are stressful in their own ways. The last thing you want is to fall in love with a car, make a payment, and find out you got scammed, leaving you heartbroken and out of a few thousand dollars. Sadly, there are many individuals and even dealerships who prey on unsuspecting customers like you to make a profit. Before you sign that check, take a look at how to spot a scam to avoid losing your money.

Too Good to Be True

Have you come across a used 2018 Volkswagen with 15,000 miles for only $3,000? This deal seems like an offer you can’t give up, but beware. If the price of a car seems too good to be true, you’re probably right. A car with a price tag that is well below market value should raise a red flag. Often, the buyer (you) will contact the seller, who will claim the car is out of state or country and will have to be shipped. Then, the seller will ask you to wire a large sum of money, such as through Western Union, or through a bank transfer. Once you send the money, the seller will break all contact and you’ll never receive that car.

To avoid this, search for “used car dealerships near me.” A dealership is much more trustworthy, and you’ll be able to inspect the car in person. If you’re buying a car from an individual who refuses to meet face-to-face, cut off contact and search again. A person unwilling to meet you is most likely trying to scam you, which is why shopping at a dealership is a better option.

Bait-and-Switch Tactics

However, not all dealerships are trustworthy. Some used car dealerships pretend to be private sellers on websites like Craigslist to avoid complying with the Federal Trade Commission’s Used Car Rules. This means they don’t have to include a Buyer’s Guide with the car which outlines the warranty, repairs covered in the warranty, and all promises made in writing. While this isn’t technically illegal, you could end up driving home in a lemon.

Additionally, some dealerships will try and hold you at their showroom all day, saying they’ve “lost the keys” or “have to go to an offsite lot to get the car” to make you tired and say yes to anything. Then, they may say they don’t have the exact car you want on their lot, and instead recommend another they have. They then bring you on a test drive and butter it up, and you’ll end up driving home in a car that has a monthly payment that’s $300 more than you anticipated.

To avoid this, know when to say, “no” and walk away. Walking away is the most powerful tool you have as a buyer, and make sure you know your information and car facts to avoid being scammed.


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