Don't Get Mixed-Up In Online Vehicle Fraud Deals

With the shortage of good used vehicles on the market, the FBI warns consumers that criminal perpetrators are posting fraudulent online classified advertisements offering vehicles for sale that are not, nor have ever been, in their possession.

The fake advertisements usually include photos matching the description of the vehicle and a phone number or email address to contact the supposed seller. Once contact is established, the criminal sends the intended buyer additional photos along with an explanation for the discounted price and the urgency of the transaction. The criminal might say:

  • “The seller is moving or being deployed by the military”  or
  • “The seller received the vehicle as part of a divorce settlement”  or
  • “The vehicle belonged to a relative who has died”

The criminal makes the fraud appear legitimate by deceptively claiming partnership with a reputable company and assuring that the transaction will occur through the third party’s Buyer Protection Program. After the transaction is complete, the criminal typically ignores all follow-up communication from the buyer or may demand additional payments. In the end, the vehicle is not delivered and the buyer is never able to recoup the losses.

What to watch for:

  • If it appears too good to be true, it probably is
  • Use the Internet to research the advertised item, and the seller’s name and contact information
  • Use the Internet to research the company’s contact information and its shipping/payment policies before completing a transaction
  • Avoid sellers who refuse to meet in person or refuse to allow physical inspection of the vehicle before the purchase
  • Ask for the vehicle’s VIN, license plate (if possible) and the name of the individual to whom the car is currently registered

    — FBI Common Scams Center