Beware the internet car scams: How fraudsters con buyers

13 mins read


Online vehicle scams are on the rise with victims losing a total of £16.5million in nine months of this year alone, new research has revealed.

This is up 10 per cent on the same months of March and November last year, according to data from Action Fraud.

Vehicle scams often involve fraudsters posting images of cars online for sale, although they are in no such possession of a car and steal the funds.

One victim is Ingrid Wilkes, from Hertfordshire, who recently lost £1,950 to such a scam on eBay.

Ingrid bought a Nissan Juke through eBay and paid £1,925 to the seller through bank transfer (stock image)

Ingrid bought a Nissan Juke through eBay and paid £1,925 to the seller through bank transfer (stock image)

While she was at home recovering from surgery, she began looking for a new car to make it easier to return to work.

She found one on eBay she liked, a Nissan Juke and as this was during lockdown, a number of traders were offering a service where they deliver the car to the customer and they then have a certain number of days to return it in if not satisfied.

Ingrid, 52, said: ‘I did some research on the trader. They had 25 cars advertised on their eBay showroom and all the ads looked very professional with numerous photos of the exterior and interior.

‘I did a private check on the car number plate to ensure the car wasn’t stolen, was HPI clear and everything added up correctly.’

She added the firm was registered as a limited company and were advertised through other platforms, some of which require their traders to sign a code of conduct.

Other signs they were a legitimate company include the fact they had a landline number and a registered address in Manchester.

Ingrid decided to contact the firm through eBay. However, as it was a classified advert, they subsequently replied to her privately and not through the platform.

When a seller lists an item through an eBay Classified Ad, they state a price, the buyer contacts them and together they finalise the transaction outside of the eBay platform.

Ingrid paid the money to an individual via bank transfer but the car, sadly, never arrived

Ingrid paid the money to an individual via bank transfer but the car, sadly, never arrived

She paid out 50 per cent of the cost of the value of the car via bank transfer, costing £1,925. Unfortunately, the car never arrived.

She said: ‘I’ve since found out their address belongs to a climbing company and is not a car showroom. I contacted the company and was told I would be refunded but it never arrived.’

The scammer blocked her number once she asked for a refund and never replied to any of her emails.  

After realising this was likely to be a scam, Ingrid immediately reported it to Action Fraud, Trading Standards, her bank and eBay.

Her bank, Lloyds, said they could not raise a scam case until she had waited 14 days to see if she received a refund.

After the 14 days, she was advised there were no funds available in the bank she transferred money to and she was not entitled to any refund on the basis she had been negligent by purchasing a car without seeing it.

Ingrid said if she had been allowed to proceed before the 14 days the money may have still been there for her to reclaim.

A Lloyds Bank spokesperson said: ‘We have a great deal of sympathy for Ms Wilkes who was victim of a scam. Unfortunately, before she transferred her money, she didn’t check the car she thought she was buying on eBay was genuinely for sale. 

‘It’s important to take great care when using bank transfers to pay for products and services through online marketplaces. If a seller puts pressure on you to transfer money upfront, or if the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.’

It said that Ingrid paid the money into a personal account and although it tried to reclaim the money she transferred to the scammer after she called the bank, unfortunately no funds remained.

The company she bought the car from is still advertising on eBay, despite it being taken off briefly after This is Money contacted the online marketplace.

She has now taken the case to the Financial Ombudsman in the hopes of getting some of the money back.

NUMBER OF VEHICLE SCAMS REPORTED TO ACTION FRAUD
Month Number of reports Reported losses
Mar-20 322 £326,619
Apr-20 1,573 £2,230,996
May-20 2,004 £2,700,908
Jun-20 2,169 £2,976,063
Jul-20 2,094 £2,137,160
Aug-20 1,556 £1,226,888
Sep-20 1,550 £1,615,201
Oct-20 1,636 £1,582,340
Nov-20 1,880 £1,742,147
Total 14,784 £16,538,322
Source: Action Fraud   

As Ingrid and the seller arranged payment offline, eBay said it has no record of the purchase and cannot verify it in its system.

It said that any person making a purchase on any online platform is urged not to transfer a large sum of money before viewing the item in person. A seller or retailer requesting this can be a sign of a scam, on any platform.

An eBay spokesperson said: ‘We’re very sorry to hear Ms Wilkes appears to have been the victim of a scam. We have investigated this seller and taken action on the account.

‘We take our responsibility to protect users very seriously, and invest heavily in teams dedicated to fraud prevention who provide evidence to law enforcement agencies to help tackle criminal behaviour.

‘When buying a vehicle, users should view the item in person before making any payments, and not take the transaction off the eBay platform.

‘Anyone who is concerned they have been a victim of fraud should get in touch with eBay customer services immediately and report the incident to Action Fraud.’

It seems lockdown may have made drivers more desperate for a good deal as this June was the worst month for vehicle scams with losses totalling nearly £3million compared to £2.25million in the same time in 2019. 

July also saw 2,094 reports with losses coming to £2.14million.  

A spokesperson for Action Fraud said: ‘Criminals will use every opportunity they can to defraud innocent people, including those looking to purchase a new vehicle. 

‘They may use the coronavirus pandemic as a reason why you cannot view the vehicle in person before paying a deposit, which seems plausible.

‘However, we would always recommend that you view the vehicle in person and take it for a test drive before paying any money.

‘If you’re purchasing a vehicle from a website or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first. Look up reviews of the website or person you’re buying from.

‘If you’re purchasing an item from a seller on an online marketplace, you can view the seller’s feedback history before going ahead with the purchase to check if they’re legitimate. 

‘If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, make sure you choose a payment method that offers you protection, such as a credit card, in case something goes wrong.’

We lost £3,500 after trying to buy a car on Facebook

It is not just eBay that is home to vehicle scams – others have found social media sites can also be dangerous. 

A couple from Surrey lost £3,500 on a car they bought on Facebook via bank transfer that was never delivered from criminals claiming to work for Cars For U limited.

After seeing an advertisement on Facebook last October, Paula Jones* clicked on the advert which took them to a website. 

They conversed with the supposed owners of the vehicle over email and sent payment of £3,500 electronically.

Paula said: ‘They said it would be delivered on Monday 28 October. Cars For U emailed saying there was a delay, and it would be delivered on the Tuesday by 6pm. It wasn’t.

‘When it didn’t arrive my husband phoned Barclays’ fraud line at about 6.30pm. He explained what happened, but the Barclays call centre agent said there was nothing they could do to help us.’

Unfortunately, they had fallen victim to an authorised push payment (APP) scam where fraudsters trick their victims into willingly making large bank transfers to them.

Instead of compensating the Joneses through its sign up to the APP code, Barclays advised the couple to report it to the police, which they did. 

The police did not get back to the couple and after a few months Barclays paid the couple £350 as an apology for taking so long and for not following the correct procedure.

However, when This is Money approached the bank for further comment on its actions, Barclays opened another investigation and refunded the couple the money lost in full. 

* Not her real name 

How to check if it is a legitimate listing 

1. Research the seller and review the feedback

2. Research the approximate value of the vehicle they are interested in buying, and compare on other sites. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is

3. Inspect the vehicle before sending any money, adhering to lockdown regulations and social distancing

4. If a buyer is unsure if the vehicle being offered is legitimate, contact customer services immediately

If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.

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