Buying & Selling Vehicles

Stay safe when buying or selling vehicles online

It has never been easier to buy or sell a vehicle than it is now … thanks to the internet. The ability to upload and view photos and vehicle descriptions, and contact buyers and sellers – all with a click – have transformed the business, and people’s experience of buying and selling. However, the internet has also made it easier for dishonest buyers and sellers to defraud larger numbers of people, so there are a number of things you need to be aware of before going online to buy or sell a vehicle.

The risks


  • Fraudulent advertisements placed by criminal gangs posing as sellers, often involving a hoax vehicle at a bargain price, a faulty phone number and demands to transfer money into a payment protection service or abroad.
  • Buying a stolen vehicle, which could include one that has had its identification numbers replaced by a set from a written-off vehicle, and have bogus documentation (known as a ‘ringer’). If you are unfortunate enough to buy a stolen vehicle, you may still be liable for finance agreement payments when it is returned to its rightful owner.
  • Buying a vehicle that has been ‘clocked’ (ie the mileage recorder has been wound back to make it appear that it has covered fewer miles).
  • Buying a vehicle where the remains of two or more vehicles have been welded together to create a ‘new’ model (known as a ‘cut and shut’).
  • Being charged ‘admin fees’ by dealers / vehicle supermarkets, which have not been included in the advertised price. These can claim to cover a number of services, including penalties for not taking up the seller’s finance.
  • Buying a cloned vehicle, which wears the stolen number plates from an identical model. This is not necessarily a stolen vehicle. If you buy a cloned vehicle, you will probably receive demands for parking and speeding fines, or be questioned about crimes in which the original vehicle is involved.
  • Phishing emails requesting login and payment card details, claiming to be from vehicle buying and selling websites.


  • Fraudulent buyers – thieves posing as potential purchasers – who offer the entire vehicle value paid via a PayPal or similar account created with false credit card details.
  • Fraudulent car buying companies asking you to pay a ‘refundable’ deposit for completion of sale and collection of the vehicle.
  • Payment not being made or cleared until after you have released the vehicle, including payments via forged bankers’ cheques or fake escrow services.
  • Your vehicle being driven off without payment.
  • Your vehicle being stolen by thieves who recognise the location from the photo in your advertisement.
  • Your vehicle’s number plates being cloned because they appeared in the photo in your advertisement, and being applied to the same type and colour of vehicle for use in more serious crimes.
  • Vehicle export scams – encouraging you to transfer ‘shipping fees’ to ‘buyers’ abroad.
  • Text messages expressing an interest in your vehicle, but providing excuses as to why they cannot call you. These may be part of a premium rate scam which will charge you large sums of money if you respond with a call or text.
  • Phishing emails requesting login and payment card details, claiming to be from vehicle buying and selling websites.

Safe buying

  • Pay for the vehicle when you physically collect it from the seller. Never send money abroad, part with any money (including a deposit) for a vehicle you have not seen and inspected, or to a ‘payment protection’ service.
  • If the vehicle is being offered at a much cheaper price, it could be the sign of a scam. Always check the market value by getting a valuation or comparing the price on Auto Trader or similar sites.
  • Perform a Google image search to check if photos have been copied from other websites. This could help to save you from being defrauded by buying a non-existent vehicle.
  • Physically check the vehicle (preferably in daylight) and its documentation – V5C document (also known as the ‘logbook’, service history and MOT certificates – before handing over any money.
  • Always take the vehicle for a test drive – either accompanied or unaccompanied by the seller, but do all you can to safeguard against potential COVID-19 (Coronavirus) infection.
  • Check the mileage appearing on the milometer matches its service history and old MOT certificates. On analogue milometers (found on some older vehicles) ensure the numbered barrels line up. Check the general condition matches age and supposed mileage.
  • Check – or have an expert check – that the vehicle is not a ‘cut and shut’ (two or more vehicles welded together).
  • Check that the V5C is authentic, with a DVLA watermark. Check the serial number in the top right-hand corner – if it falls into the following range it could be stolen and the police should be informed: BG8229501 to BG9999030, and BI2305501 to BI2800000.
  • View the vehicle at the seller’s home and check the address is the same as the one listed on the registration document (V5C). Ensure that the seller is the recorded keeper, otherwise they may not be legally entitled to sell the vehicle.
  • Check that the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is the same as that on the V5C. This number is commonly found on the chassis, on the windscreen or on the floor by the driver’s seat. Check that this has not been tampered with.
  • Get a car history check to find out whether the vehicle has been recorded as stolen, written off, scrapped or is subject to outstanding finance. You can check online to find out what information the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) holds about a vehicle. Other organisations including Auto Trader offer car history checks.
  • If buying from a dealer or vehicle supermarket, check up front that the advertised price is the total price and that you will not be charged ‘admin fees’ or other additional costs.

Safe selling

  • Make sure any test driver has a valid driving licence and suitable insurance cover.  You could be liable for any accidents they may have.
  • To avoid buyers being left alone (and potentially driving away) with your vehicle, keep hold of their keys at all times and avoid leaving them in the ignition.
  • If the potential buyer requests a test drive – either accompanied or unaccompanied by yourself – do all you can to safeguard against potential COVID-19 (Coronavirus) infection.
  • Never hand over the vehicle keys or documentation until your bank has confirmed the full value of the vehicle has cleared into your bank account.
  • Never send money abroad.
  • Never pay a large deposit.
  • Don’t be pressured into releasing your vehicle – a genuine buyer will not mind waiting until the draft has cleared.
  • Be careful about how you take payment:
    • Cash – ask for the cash to be handed to you in a bank, where the notes can be checked for forgeries and paid in immediately.
    • Cheques – never let the buyer take your vehicle until the funds have cleared in your bank account.
    • Bank drafts –  are not as good as cash, so treat them in the way you would a personal cheque.
    • Online bank transfer is one of the safest ways to pay as it avoids handling large amounts of cash and the problems associated with cheques.
  • Obscure the number plates in the photo(s) you use to advertise your car. If a potential buyer asks why, explain how plates can be cloned for use on other vehicles for more serious crimes.

buying selling vehicles onlineAnd as with all kinds of online transactions, always observe the following precautions:

  • Do not reply to, or click on links contained in, unsolicited or spam emails from companies or individuals you do not recognise.
  • Make absolutely sure the correct website address appears in the address bar, as it is easy for fraudsters to use similar spellings or other details to fool you into visiting a fake site.
  • Before entering payment card details on a website, ensure that the link is secure, in three ways:
  • There should be a padlock symbol in the browser window frame, which appears when you attempt to log in or register. Be sure that the padlock is not on the page itself … this will probably indicate a fraudulent site.
  • The web address should begin with ‘https://’. The ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’.
  • Double check all details of your purchase before confirming payment.
  • Some websites will redirect you to a third-party payment service (such as WorldPay). Ensure that these sites are secure before you make your payment.
  • Choose safe passwords and do not reveal them to anybody, however trustworthy you think t they may be.
  • Always log out of websites into which you have logged in or registered details. Simply closing your browser is not enough to ensure privacy.
  • Keep receipts.
  • Remember that paying by credit card offers greater protection than with other methods in terms of fraud, guarantees and non-delivery.
  • Check credit card and bank statements carefully after shopping to ensure that the correct amount has been debited, and also that no fraud has taken place as a result of the transaction.
  • Ensure you have effective and updated antivirus/antispyware software and firewall running before you go online.
  • Ensure that if you are using a wireless network, it is secure and encrypted.

If you suspect anything

  • If you receive an email which you believe to be from a fraudster, do not respond, but forward it to the abuse department of the sender’s email provider and use your email software to block further emails from the sender.
  • If you receive a text message asking you to phone a premium rate number, contact the free Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA) helpline on 0300 30 300 20. Alternatively, you can make a complaint to Phone-paid Services Authority or check a premium rate number.

Report it!

If you think you have been a victim of vehicle fraud:

  • Report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visitng If you are in Scotland, contact Police Scotland on 101.
  • Report the incident to the website’s team to assist in apprehending offenders and prevent similar incidents happening to other people


The Vehicle Safe Trading Advisory Group is an industry forum created to help protect buyers and sellers of pre-owned vehicles from fraud during the online buying and selling process. To help in achieving this aim, VSTAG members may share information on known and suspected fraudulent advertisements.

VSTAG helps online car buyers and sellers by:

  • Offering advice to consumers and car dealers on how to avoid vehicle-related fraud
  • Sharing intelligence between members that could reduce vehicle-related fraud, including advice on current scams and details of fraudulent ads
  • Developing national best practice guidelines for members on vehicle-related crime prevention and investigation
    Liaising with law enforcement agencies and regulatory authorities

If you’ve experienced cybercrime, you can contact the charity Victim Support for free and confidential support and information.


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Jargon Buster

A Glossary of terms used in this article:


A popular search engine


An attempt at identity theft in which criminals lead users to a counterfeit website in the hope that they will disclose private information such as user names or passwords.