While COVID-19 shutdowns were the culprit behind automobile production issues in 2020, 2021’s big story will be a shortage of computer chips and semiconductors. As each year’s models are released with increasingly complex electronics, the demand for chips and semiconductors in the automotive sector has surged in the last decade. Manufacturers like General Motors, Ford, Honda, and Toyota have had to shut down production or send new vehicles to showroom floors missing components to meet demand for 2021. This, in turn, has led to a surge in demand for used vehicles, raising their sticker prices.
It should come as no surprise that with an increase in demand for used vehicles and the lingering effects of the pandemic, there exists plenty of opportunities for scammers to take advantage of those in the market for used vehicles. In this article, we’ll highlight some of the scams and red flags buyers should have in mind as they look to purchase used vehicles online.
SELLERS UNWILLING OR UNABLE TO SHOW VEHICLE
The COVID-19 pandemic provided the perfect smokescreen for scammers in 2020 looking to avoid test drives and in-person showings of vehicles, with many using it as an excuse to keep buyers at arm’s length, requesting payments in good faith that the vehicle would be delivered after payment. Would-be buyers should never agree to purchase a vehicle they haven’t seen themselves or aren’t allowed to test drive extensively. They should also be wary of any seller who won’t allow their vehicle to be inspected by the buyer’s trusted professional.
SELLERS SEEM RUSHED OR HAVE A SOB STORY
For scammers, immediacy is key to success. The longer it takes to separate a potential buyer from their cash, the less likely their scam will work. Many employ pressure tactics to try to get money from customers. Common reasons for rushed sales are things like a death in the family, an urgent need for rent payment, or even upcoming military deployment. Buyers should always beware of a rushed sale and never be afraid to walk away if a seller becomes too pushy for payment. Remember, the market is hot for used cars right now, so legitimate sellers won’t need to rush a sale.
SELLER REQUESTS UNTRACEABLE PAYMENT
Customers should always process payment through a trusted and trackable source. If a seller is requesting payment through wire transfer, gift cards, or other strange, untraceable means, this should be a red flag. Similarly, many scammers know that requesting thousands of dollars in up-front payment will scare potential buyers away, so some may try to get you to pay installments. Things like a deposit, delivery fee, etc., should be handled with extreme caution, as any money handed over before a vehicle is delivered may not be able to be recovered.
BEWARE HIDDEN DAMAGE/LOW MILEAGE
Never buy a vehicle you can’t see in person and always have it inspected by someone you trust. Scam sellers have been known to employ things like new paint jobs or interior reconditioning to cover up accidents, major mechanical issues, or even flood damage. Always request a VIN from the seller and plug it into multiple sites to ensure you capture as much vehicle history as possible. On a similar note, most drivers put 10-13k miles on their vehicles each year. If a car seems to have extremely low mileage, be sure to compare that with other things like the tire tread depth or wear-and-tear on the interior to make sure it all adds up. If a car is advertised with only 15,000 miles on the odometer but has bald tires, then you know something isn’t right.
While by no means a comprehensive listing of things to look out for when buying a used car, these are just a few examples of how scammers are taking advantage of our recovering economy. It’s a seller’s market for used vehicles right now, so buyers owe it to themselves to take as many precautions as possible. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Do as much of your business through reputable sellers as you can to avoid losing hundreds or thousands of dollars on your next used vehicle transaction.