Don’t let high used car prices drive you into the arms of an online used car criminal.

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If you’re in the market for a used car, you’ve probably experienced serious sticker shock at today’s high prices for used vehicles. It’s not just your imagination that used car prices are at an all-time high, either.

Used car prices overall are currently around $10,000 higher — a 43 percent jump — than their projected “normal” levels, according to assisted car shopping assistance site Copilot’s June 2022 Return to Normal Index. The index shows what a car might be worth today if it weren’t for the pandemic’s detrimental effects on today’s economy.

Add inventory shortages at new car dealerships and strong consumer demand for quality used cars to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for high prices on used cars no matter where you shop.

Car-buying sites such as Carvana, Vroom, and Carfax have popularized the online new and used car purchase experience. But consumers in the market for a used car shouldn’t take for granted that all online used car vendors or posted ads are legitimate.

How do online used car buying scams work?

Scammers post ads for inexpensive used cars that seem like a great bargain on online car auction and sales websites or online marketplaces such as Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. But the criminal posting the ad doesn’t actually own the car, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The seller may be available to chat online or via text or email. They’re often eager to share photos and other information about the car for sale. Some even promise that the sale will be handled with a buyer protection program offered by a well-known retailer.

Sellers may send fake invoices purportedly from eBay Motors or ask you to pay for the car with eBay gift cards. If you call the number on the invoice, the scammer may pretend to work for eBay Motors or another legitimate website, says the FTC.

Consumers lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to online used car scams. But you don’t have to become the next unsuspecting victim of online used car scammers.

Here are six red flags that should alert you to steer clear of an online used car seller.

Find out: How to Buy a Car with Bad Credit Without Getting Scammed

You can’t meet the seller in person or inspect the car

If the seller is local but refuses to allow you to drive the car or have it inspected by your mechanic before buying, that’s a red flag. “Experts agree that you should have an independent mechanic inspect a used car before you buy it, according to the FTC.

The scammer may even seem to have a good excuse, such as being deployed in the military or currently living out of state due to a recent job transfer. Don’t buy into the scam. Wait to purchase a used car that you can take to a mechanic for an independent inspection.

Find out: How to Buy a Car and Negotiate the Best Deal

The seller pressures you to buy now

Scammers try to rush the sale with high-pressure tactics like telling you the price is about to go up or that you need to buy the used car today to get the best deal.

“Resist the pressure,” warns the FTC. “Scammers use high-pressure sales tactics to get you to buy without thinking things through.”

Find out: 7 Signs of a Debt Settlement Scam

The seller has bad online reviews

If the ad is through an online used car website, search online for reviews under the name of the seller or business selling the car. If other car buyers got burned, there’s a good chance you’ll find plenty of poor reviews and rip-off complaints in the search results.

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You have to pay with gift cards

If the seller requires you to pay with gift cards or a wire transfer, back out of the deal immediately. If someone says you have to pay that way, it’s a scam “every time,” says the FTC.

Find out: 7 Signs of a Debt Settlement Scam

The seller adds on fees after the sale

Once you agree to a price, scammers may try to add on “shipping,” “transportation” or other fees not mentioned earlier, says the FTC. That’s a sure sign you’re not dealing with a legitimate seller who’s honest about the full cost of purchasing the vehicle.

Find out: Don’t Be Fooled by These 6 Government Imposter Scams

The VIN isn’t a match

Once you obtain the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) from the seller, check the number against the car’s data at approved vendors listed in the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. If it doesn’t match the VIN for the car you’re considering, slam the brakes on the potential deal and shop elsewhere.

Find out: 11 Easy Ways to Spot a Get Out of Debt Scam

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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