LONG BEACH, Calif. Car shoppers have several different online sources to help them find the perfect car. However, the Internet has also become a resource for scammers, according to the National Consumers League, which reported an increase in scam-related consumer complaints during the first quarter of 2011.
The group received more than 100 automotive-related consumer complaints between Jan. 1 and March 22 of this year. The combined reported losses totaled nearly $300,000.
"Scam artists prey on consumers in search of a bargain, and these scams are no exception," said John Breyault, director of the Fraud Center. "Unfortunately, the only person that's getting a steal is the con artist."
Submitted Photo - - A vehicle inspector reviews more than 150 points on a used vehicle, and can identify potential issues or scams in a used car sale.
"Consumers need to protect themselves from unscrupulous sellers," said Eric Widmer, vice-president of sales and operations for AiM Mobile Inspections, a national inspection service. "Car shoppers need to have patience and common sense, and use the tools available to keep from getting taken advantage of."
SCAM: Online sales
These used car scams generally involve a classified listing on popular online sales and auction sites. The listings are generally for late-model automobiles at well below market value.
In the schemes, when the victim contacts the scammer, they are told that the seller is not local and that payment for the car or for vehicle shipping should be sent via wire transfer to the seller. Often, the seller claims to be a member of the armed services who is either already deployed or preparing to deploy. As such, quick payment is necessary to ensure that the buyer received the "great deal" on the car.
Solution: Requesting to have the vehicle inspected will help verify that the car for sale actually exists. A seller who refuses to meet in person is a red flag. A second rule of thumb: Never wire money for a sales transaction.
SCAM: VIN Tampering
Vehicle Identification Number tampering has become more popular as crooked sellers try to hide unflattering information that may exist on a vehicle's history report. Shady sellers have been known to search through parking lots for a car with the same make, model and color, copy its VIN and use that information to obtain a bogus history report for the car they're trying to sell.
Solution: A professional vehicle inspection will uncover VIN tampering. There are a number of VIN locations, so look at more than the dashboard and make sure they match.
SCAM: Unreported collision damage
Inevitably a dealership or body shop will end up with a car that's been in a collision, some major, some minor. For any number of reasons, sometimes information about a collision or major damage on a vehicle goes unreported, meaning it won't be on that vehicle's history report.
Solution: A professional vehicle inspector knows the tell-tale signs of accident repair, whether it's from overspray, new parts, non-factory welds, unpainted bolts or unaligned body panels. An inspection will reveal the damage prior to purchase, using photos on the condition report as proof, no matter how a seller tries to disguise prior repairs.
SCAM: Title Washing
Title washing is transferring a once-salvaged vehicle, such as a car that's been flood-damaged or totaled, to a state with more lenient title laws. When the state issues a new title, it may no longer show that it had been salvaged. Title washing helps car owners remove a vehicle's "salvaged" or "flood-damaged" tag, allowing the seller to re-sell the vehicle for a higher price.
Solutions: Once a vehicle has been branded and that information is reported, it remains in that state's records no matter how many states the car is sold in. While the current title may no longer indicate severe damage or a salvage brand, a vehicle history report will. Consumers can also request a title guarantee from the dealer in writing. An inspection can also identify problems that title washing attempts to cover up.