Trillium Automobile Dealers Association

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Be wary of online car-buying scams

Created on Friday, 10 September 2010

Here's today's reality about the perils of online curbsiding and online car-buying scams.

An 18-year-old named Tyler (not his real name) recently tried selling his Nissan online. He listed the car on a popular, Canadian-based, online classified site, where details of the car were posted for free.

After several days, a woman claiming to be from the site called Tyler to say that his Nissan was receiving "more interest than usual" from potential buyers.

A week later, another person called to say that they had a definite buyer for Tyler's car. To secure the sale, a $500 deposit was required for administration purposes. Tyler was told that the money would be refunded after 90 days if the sale didn't go through. So he handed over his credit card number, figuring he was protected.

Several days passed and Tyler received no follow-up phone calls or emails, and the Visa payment went through. At this point, Tyler got suspicious.

Once he realized that the person who called with the "guaranteed purchaser" was not from the company with which he had originally listed his car, it was too late.

When he tried contacting the credit card company, they faxed him a copy of a printed web screen, which Tyler had filled in to authorize his Visa payment.

Tyler lost $500, but it could have been more. Many unsuspecting buyers and sellers have lost thousands in similar online scams.

Anyone planning to buy or sell a vehicle online should be aware of the red flags to watch out for:

  • If you can't communicate with a potential buyer or seller directly by phone or email, then walk away.
  • Don't believe anyone who says that Craigslist, eBay, PayPal, etc. guarantees transactions (they don't).
  • If someone offers to send you a cheque but requires your banking or credit card information first, this is a good indication of a possible fraud.
  • Sellers should never transfer ownership or release their vehicle until they have received full payment by cash, money order, or certified cheque.
  • If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Popular sites like eBay, Craigslist and Kijiji are often used to buy and sell vehicles online. Scam artists will copy and manipulate information from these sites to deceive potential customers.
  • Many scammers' websites originate offshore. Be alert for grammatical errors and inaccurate contact information.
  • Try to deal locally when buying or selling a vehicle online. Remember that the GTA is one of the largest automotive markets in North America for both new and used vehicles.
  • Never provide financial information, such as a bank account number, social insurance number, eBay/PayPal information, or credit card details.
  • Familiarize yourself with online car scams. Case studies can be found with a Google search.

Consumer protection laws in Ontario are among the strongest in North America, and the Motor Vehicle Dealers Act administered by the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC) regulates all transactions between registered dealers and consumers.

If consumers want to avoid risks, they should only deal with registered dealers. (Don't hesitate to ask any new or used car dealer in Ontario for proof of OMVIC registration, or visit www.omvic.on.ca.)

Although thousands of pre-owned vehicles are sold privately each month in Canada, using a variety of legitimate online classified and auction sites, consumers need to understand the risks in conducting business over the Internet.

Wheels.ca, which accepts automotive classified ads on its web site from both dealers and private party consumers, goes to great lengths to protect shoppers from encountering fraudulent activity.

Every day, the company screens all private party automotive ads and it removes ads that are deemed suspicious or deceitful. The company also blocks IP addresses outside Canada from posting ads on the site, which makes it more difficult for foreign-posted fraudsters to engage their audience.

Buying or selling new or used vehicles on the Internet, however, is largely unregulated and subject to abuse. Be careful!

Go back to Cohen Editorials 2010 »

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