BBB Study: Vir­tual Ve­hi­cle Ven­dor and Es­crow Scams

Big Spring Herald Weekend - - LOCAL - BBB Col­umn

Used car sales – and scams in­volv­ing ve­hi­cles – have surged dur­ing the pan­demic. Buy­ers shop for a used car on­line and ask to see it in per­son, but the seller uses COVID-19 as an ex­cuse to avoid meet­ing. The buyer sends the money to pur­chase the car, but it never ar­rives.

Scam­mers will use photos and de­scrip­tions from other ad­ver­tise­ments to sell a ve­hi­cle that doesn’t ex­ist. Once a buyer de­cides they want the car, they are asked to wire money to a third-party es­crow business, which is ac­tu­ally op­er­ated by the scam­mer.

A Septem­ber 2020 BBB study on vir­tual ve­hi­cle ven­dor scams re­vealed con­sumers age 55 – 64 were the largest de­mo­graphic re­port­ing this type of fraud to Scam Tracker. Of those re­port­ing es­crow scams, 41% re­ported los­ing money, and the study projects more than $1 mil­lion will be lost in 2020.

How can you rec­og­nize a scam like this? Red flags in­clude prices far be­low mar­ket value, re­fus­ing to meet in per­son and claim­ing emo­tional or ur­gent rea­sons for the ve­hi­cle need­ing to be sold quickly. Fraud­u­lent sell­ers in­sist it is safe to send them money, and the trans­ac­tion is pro­tected by an in­de­pen­dent third-party ship­ping com­pany. Scam­mers of­ten use ebay’s name to seem more le­git­i­mate. They may even use fake in­voices with ebay Mo­tors let­ter­head.

If you’re look­ing to pur­chase a car on­line, use these tips from your Bet­ter Business Bureau to avoid es­crow scams:

Do your re­search. Re­verse en­gine search images of the car or look up any un­usual phrases in the de­scrip­tion. You can also use to learn how long es­crow or ship­ping com­pany web­sites have been ac­tive. Com­par­ing it to how long the com­pany claims to have been op­er­at­ing can help you de­ter­mine the web­site’s va­lid­ity.

Shop smart. As you con­sider dif­fer­ent cars, check their Kel­ley Blue Book value so you can rec­og­nize prices that are sus­pi­ciously low. When you are ready to buy, re­frain from pay­ing over wire trans­fer or pre­paid gift cards. Pay with a credit card, which can pro­tect you if you need to dis­pute a charge.

Get a ve­hi­cle his­tory re­port. You can re­quest a ve­hi­cle his­tory re­port from Car­fax or Au­tocheck. Ve­hi­cle his­tory re­ports show not only its ac­ci­dent and ser­vice his­tory, but own­er­ship his­tory as well. This can help ver­ify the car you are pur­chas­ing is le­git­i­mate.

Visit to read the full study.

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