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Online Car Auctions: Tips and Traps

Generally the majority of autos sold via online auctions are sold by legitimate sellers.  But there are a few shonky operators running scams involving wire transfers and selling poor quality vehicles. You should take care when buying online.

The web has provided everyone with a fantastic tool that makes it easier to do all sorts of things than it used to be.  Online auctions are a major online activity.  Buyers can buy anything from a new pair of shoes to a house at an online auction.  One of the more popular items for sale online are autos.   Buying a car is traditionally a transaction that buyers do in person; it allows them to “kick the tires” and meet the seller before making a purchase. But the success of eBay Motors, AutoTrader and other online sites devoted to the sale of motor vehicles underlines the success and popularity of buying autos online.

Prospective buyers who wish to purchase a vehicle online should be aware of a popular scam by crooks that attempt to steal your money via wire transfer. The seller offers a vehicle for sale that he or she doesn’t actually have; they often just post a standard photo or image of a vehicle online. The sellers often indicate that they are located in Europe, and they insist on a wire transfer, such as Western Union, for payment. Once the buyer sends payment then the seller vanishes, never to be heard from again.

This scam has been going on for some time, and most online auto auction sites encourage their customers never to pay for a vehicle using a wire transfer, even if the seller promises to use escrow to ensure the safety of the transaction.

Another trap for buying a car online is inspection is sometimes more difficult.  The vehicle may be legitimate but be located interstate.  Or the condition of the vehicle may not be accurately described online by the seller.

Here are a few tips for shopping online:

1) Watch out for auctions that feature stock photos or photos from brochures. Anyone with a real car to sell should be able to take and post his or her own picture of it.

2) Ask the seller if you can inspect the vehicle in person. Someone who doesn’t actually have the vehicle in his or her possession will almost certainly refuse. Even if you have no intention of paying a visit, just asking to see it could be useful.

3) Watch out for any seller who will only accept a wire transfer for payment.

4) Beware of a seller who says the vehicle is in another country but offers to pay the shipping to the United States. This is commonly used by scammers in other countries.

5) If on eBay, check the seller’s transaction history to see if they have a record of actually selling vehicles. Scammers sometimes hack into eBay user accounts and sell using the name of another, established user.

6) If you feel that the vehicle is genuine then obtain a vehicle history report.  Such reports are available from Carfax or Autocheck and provide the history of the vehicle, which can show up a dubious past.  The relatively small cost is worth it and provides some assurance about the vehicle you are intending to buy.

While buying a vehicle through online auction sites is a convenient way to purchase one, buyers should exercise the same cautions as when they buy anything else on the Internet. If you are buying an expensive item and you are not familiar with the seller, be careful.

And remember, there are many, many vehicles for sale and auction at any time.  Don’t get your heart set on a vehicle too much as it may lead to grief.  Maintain a cautious approach and rely on your intuition.  It something seems to good to be true then it probably is.  In such cases just walk away as there are many more vehicles for you to choose from.

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