Car scams and how to avoid them
It’s all too easy to fall for a car scam, with motorists in the UK losing millions a year to fraudsters. Find out what to watch out for and how to protect yourself.
When it comes to buying – or selling – a car, the old cliché rings true: if it looks or sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Thankfully, car scams and car fraud are rare in the UK, but they do happen – so it's best to make sure you’re protected. Whether you’re buying, selling or maintaining your vehicle, you want to keep your wits about you to avoid falling victim to increasingly sophisticated car scams.
Although it’s unlikely, the prospect of losing your car to a scammer is a cause for concern. That’s why we’ve done the research so you know what to look out for. Read on for our tips to keep you and your money safe and feel confident when buying or selling your car.
Educating yourself about car scams is the best way to protect yourself against them. Not everyone is out to rip you off, but if you’re aware of the warning signs then you're less likely to fall victim to a fraudster.
Clocking or fake mileage scams – ‘Clocking’ is the practice of interfering with the odometer to reduce the car’s mileage, increasing the sales value. Although it’s more difficult to do on modern cars, it still happens.
The best way to be sure you’re not a victim of clocking is to run a vehicle history check (more below). Along with a detailed history of the car, it will provide its mileage at the last MOT. Make a note of the mileage stated on the vehicle check and make sure it aligns with the odometer when you view the car.
If the mileage of the vehicle doesn’t correspond with the age, and general wear and tear of the car, then it might be time to walk away.
Car cloning – Criminals can sometimes steal the vehicle identification number (VIN), number plates, and V5C document of a legally registered car and pass them off as belonging to a car they have stolen. If you accidentally buy a cloned car, the police will eventually track it down and seize it as a stolen vehicle, leaving you out of pocket and without a car. Frustratingly, car cloning is impossible to prevent as a car owner, but for buyers there are simple ways to avoid buying a cloned car:
If the car doesn’t have a log book, don’t buy it!
Be sure the information in the log book – registration and VIN number – matches the car in question (always view it in person before agreeing to a sale).
Run a comprehensive vehicle history check.
Buying from a trusted firm like Oodle is the best way to avoid accidentally buying a cloned car.
Online sales scams – Many scams take advantage of large online platforms such as eBay and Gumtree, and some scammers will clone the websites of reputable online dealers to sell fake cars. Never pay for a car outside of PayPal or the website it’s advertised on as these platforms will offer protection from fraudsters. It's important for you to remember these three key points when shopping online:
If you’re directed offsite to contact a seller directly via private email or mobile phone, you're leaving yourself vulnerable to fraud.
If you find a car on Gumtree or eBay, always view it in person before you make an offer.
If you go ahead with a purchase, use a credit card or another protected payment service, such as PayPal.
Check the registration with DVLA
It’s quick and easy to check the vehicle information of any prospective new car with the DVLA and it could save you from being miss-sold an illegal vehicle: simply go to gov.uk to crosscheck the tax, SORN status and other vehicle details. All you need is the car’s registration number. You can also check the motor insurance database to find out if the vehicle is properly insured.
The safest way to pay for a car from a private seller
It’s unwise to buy a car with cash, as there’s no way to trace it should something go wrong. Only pay for a car via traceable methods, such as:
Via bank transfer
With a credit card
Through car finance
Don’t let anyone rush you into a sale – if anything feels off, you're entitled to walk away at any time. If you’re buying from a private seller, always view the vehicle first before you part with any money and ensure the car is in its advertised condition.
Run a vehicle history check
Always run a comprehensive vehicle history check on any used car you’re considering buying – it’s a simple and highly effective way of protecting yourself against being miss-sold a dodgy car. Many organisations such as HPI offer this service. For further information read our article about HPI checks and what they include.
Check the log book
When you go and see a car, ask to see the V5C vehicle registration certificate (the log book). Make sure that it’s watermarked. Be sure that the details in the log book – registration, VIN – match all the details you’ve been given. Is the registered keeper (the person listed in the log book) the person selling you the car? If not, why not?
A phishing scam is any online scam that persuades you to reveal personal information (credit card numbers, bank details, passwords etc) on a fake website.
We’ve all received dubious-looking emails asking us to input our details to cover a missed payment or pay a fine, but if it’s a plausible scam presented in the right context – in this case buying a car – then it may seem legitimate, and you're more likely to let your guard down. Common types of phishing scams include car tax scams.
Car tax scams – Be wary of any unsolicited texts or emails claiming to be from the DVLA or any Gov.uk domain offering you money back or a refund. The DVLA do not send messages like these. If you receive any messages offering an unexpected tax rebate or asking for payment confirmation details, don’t click on any embedded links – just delete the message. Contact the DVLA or any other official body directly to confirm authenticity, and never give out personal details via unsolicited emails.
Defrauding insurance companies
Most drivers are honest and law abiding, but the few that aren’t cost the industry millions – and these costs are passed back to motorists in the form of higher premiums. Some people will deliberately defraud insurance companies by giving incorrect information to a provider so they pay less for a policy or claim more than they should; others will deliberately cause minor accidents in order to make a fraudulent claim.
It’s really important to be honest and transparent when applying for insurance so that you don’t unwittingly commit fraud. Forgetting to update your details when your circumstances change, for example, or missing out an important piece of information could mean that your insurer won’t pay out when it comes to a claim, or worse – you're accused of insurance fraud yourself.
Fake insurance and ghost brokers
Car insurance scams such as fake insurers, or ghost brokers, refer to criminals posing as legitimate car insurance companies offering too-good-to-be-true policies. The best way to avoid car insurance scams is to get your insurance via a trusted price comparison site or a well-known, branded insurer. You can also check the legitimacy of an insurance broker by searching for them on the British Insurance Broker’s Association website.