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Online Car Auctions Can Take You for a Ride

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Online Car Auctions Can Take You for a Ride

Charles Essmeier
March 1, 2006

The Internet has provided the public with a useful and convenient tool that makes it easier to do all manner of things than it used to be. One of these things, oddly enough, is the sale of motor vehicles. It seems strange that cars would sell well on the Web, as one would think that buyers would want to "kick the tires" before making a purchase. The success of eBay Motors, AutoTrader and other online sites devoted to the sale of motor vehicles would suggest otherwise, as business at those sites is thriving.

Consumers who wish to purchase a vehicle online should be aware of a popular scam perpetrated by crooks who wish to steal your money – the wire transfer scam. The seller offers a vehicle for sale that he or she doesn't really have; they often just post a stock photo or one they found somewhere. 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 the money, the seller vanishes, never to be heard from again.

This scam has been going on for some time, and most of the 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.

Here are a few tips for those people who are shopping for a vehicle online:

* Ask the seller if you can stop by and see 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.
* Watch out for auctions that feature stock photos or photos from brochures. Anyone with a real car to sell should be able to take a picture of it.
* Beware of any seller who will only accept a wire transfer for payment.
* Beware of a seller who says the vehicle is in another country but offers to pay the shipping to the United States. This is a common ruse used by scammers in other countries.
* Watch out for a vehicle that is offered for sale at a price that seems too inexpensive for the model. A $25,000 car offered for $10,000 should set off bells in your head.
* 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. If the seller is selling a Harley but has a history of only buying compact discs, watch out.

While buying a vehicle through online auction sites is a good 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.

©Copyright 2006 by Retro Marketing. Charles Essmeier is the owner of Retro Marketing, a firm devoted to informational Websites, including LemonLawHelp.net, a site devoted to information regarding lemon laws for automobiles.

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