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Anti-scam Checklist – Protect Yourself from Vehicle Sale Scams

  • Tips/Guides-Tips/Guides

International Fraud Awareness Week 2022: 13 - 19 November

With more and more South Africans turning to the online space to search, research, and purchase, it’s not surprising that internet scams are on the rise.

Man holding smartphone with the word SCAM in red across the screen

What is a scam?

While the words scam and fraud are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing, there is a subtle difference. From a legal sense, fraud refers to a broader and more serious crime, with scams being one type of fraud.

Dictionary.com describes  a scam as “a deceptive scheme or trick used to cheat someone out of something, especially money.”

What does a vehicle sale scam look like?

A common car sale scam begins with an advert on Facebook, email, or SMS.

Scammers place adverts for fake non-existent vehicles online at incredible prices to lure vehicle hunters looking for a great bargain. These advertisements often look legitimate, because they include a reputable dealership’s logo, as well as photos of the vehicle and the “seller’s” contact details.

When contacting the so-called seller, he or she comes across as helpful and genuine by answering all questions, and convincing the buyer of the deal. The clincher comes when these scammers pressure the victim by asking for a deposit or even full payment otherwise lose out on a great deal. Sadly, many people have lost years’ of their hard-earned savings to these criminals who simply vanish without a trace, and at this point, tracking them down is extremely difficult.

Tips to avoid being scammed

Whenever you buy a vehicle, new or used, you’re going to first take a good look at the actual vehicle and arrange to take it for a test drive. Only once you’ve tested and inspected the vehicle properly and are completely happy with it do you arrange to make payment. That is the basic process, whether you shop online or offline.

Anti-scam checklist

To help ensure you’ve covered all bases:

  1. Verify details of sellers to ensure they are legitimate – Ensure they have provided a contact number and speak with them on the phone or, better yet, in a face-to-face virtual meeting.
  2. Arrange to meet with the seller – If you think the sale is legitimate, arrange to meet in person to view the vehicle.
  3. Don't send money via bank transfer – When the time comes to make the exchange, use safe payment methods like a credit card or PayPal.
  4. Verify the vehicle’s information – Fact-check all information provided by the seller
    • Check the vehicle history – Ask for a service report, has it been in an accident, etc.
    • Background check – Take the vehicle information to SAPS or the Metro police to find out if the vehicle is stolen.
    • Check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) – Look for this number on different locations on the car to ensure it is consistent, then make sure it matches the number on the owner registration and roadworthy documents.
    • Check that the seller's address matches the address on the registration and roadworthy documents.
    • Perform the necessary valuation checks – Search for similar models on vehicle dealer sites for pricing. If the price being offered seems too good to be true, it is likely a scam.
    • Obtain an up-to-date vehicle report and ensure all documentation is available.

For a small fee, you can make use of vehicle valuation and verification sites like AutoTrader’s VehicleCheck, or apps like FirstCheck to perform all of the above and more. Worth the convenience and peace of mind vs. buying a lemon!

Look out for red flags

  1. Refusing to meet in person.
  2. Asking for upfront payments or deposits.
  3. Price sounds too good to be true.
  4. Feeling pressured to make immediate payment.
  5. No legit telephone number or sufficient contact details.
  6. Denying you a proper test drive.
  7. No proof of vehicle history.
  8. Tampered with VIN numbers.
  9. Sad story to gain sympathy.

If you pick up just one of these red flags, walk away.

Conclusion

Many people fall victim to scams – they may be desperate to own an affordable car, or eager for what seems like a great opportunity not to be missed. Scammers are well aware of this and are experts at taking advantage of it.

One of the best defenses against being scammed is becoming an informed consumer.

Buying a vehicle is one of life’s biggest purchases you will make with your hard-earned money. Don’t let criminals walk away with it.

Disclaimer: This information is for educational, or entertainment purposes only. It must not be construed as advice, legal, financial, or otherwise. We do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability, and accuracy of this information.

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