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These days – pandemic or no pandemic – the vast majority of second-hand cars, vans, trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles are bought and sold online. It’s fast and convenient, and there’s so much choice at your fingertips.

But online marketplaces are also very popular with fraudsters. Unfortunate buyers get tricked into paying deposits or transportation fees for cars, vans, bikes and other vehicles that simply don’t exist. Or buy a vehicle without checking its history, only to find it’s been written off by a previous owner. Some sellers hand over their keys and documents to a fraudulent buyer on trust, without checking that there are cleared funds in their account. These are just examples of many types of situations you need to be wary of.

How can you tell what ads, vehicles, buyers and sellers are genuine?

Buying Safely

Paying a deposit?

If a deposit is requested or agreed, don’t pay more than you are willing to lose and confirm with the seller that they will refund the deposit if you don’t purchase the vehicle. Be wary of requests for up-front transportation fees, it could be a scam.

View the vehicle before paying the full amount

Research the seller as well as their vehicle. Most fraudulent sellers will try to persuade you to transfer money before you’ve even had sight of the vehicle. Often, they will insist on communicating only via email rather than on the phone.

Check that the price of the vehicle is in line with the market value

If the price, condition, specification or mileage of the vehicle seems too good to be true, that could indeed be the case. Research other similar vehicles or perform a free valuation on Auto Trader. If the vehicle is below market value, think twice. Ask the seller questions about its valuation, there may be genuine underlying reasons if the vehicle is under-priced.

Take the vehicle for a test drive

Be sure to thoroughly inspect any vehicle you are looking to purchase, and take it for a test drive. This should always be done from the seller’s premises or their home; never let the person meet you by the roadside or any other random location. Observe government guidelines for staying safe during the pandemic.

Carry out a vehicle history check and inspection

This will tell you if the vehicle is recorded as stolen, written off, scrapped, or is subject to outstanding finance. It’s not worth the risk buying a vehicle that could be unroadworthy or worth a fraction of what you’re paying for it. Check the service history and ask to see historic MOT certificates to check that the milometer hasn’t been adjusted. Also, consider an inspection by the AA, RAC or other reputable organisation offering the service.

Making payment

Never send money for a vehicle you haven’t seen. Don’t carry large amounts of cash. Consider paying by bank transfer or credit card (if the seller offers the facility).

Selling Safely

Be prepared

Have all the relevant paperwork together, such as the V5C, service history and MOT certificate, for a potential buyer to review. Buyers may wish to check details such as the address on the V5C and the mileage in the most recent MOT certificate. Never let the buyer photograph your documents, in case the request is fraudulent.

Beware of scammers

Always meet the buyer. Request the potential buyer’s contact details, such as their phone number and full home address, and proof of identity – a driving licence is ideal. This should give you further reassurances, and a legitimate buyer should be happy to provide this information.

Test drive advice

Make sure you ask the buyer to bring their driving licence and proof of insurance if they want to test drive the vehicle. Check their level of insurance to test drive, this should prevent you being liable for damages.

Never allow a buyer to test drive the vehicle alone

Never leave a potential buyer alone with the vehicle, nor give them the keys. Observe government guidelines for staying safe during the pandemic. If you have a keyless ignition fob, keep hold of it at all times, even on a test drive. Be aware that this type of vehicle is becoming increasing stolen by thieves who only need to be near the fob and not actually in possession, you can buy a special pouch to protect this occurring. Never jeopardise your personal safety and if you feel uncomfortable at any time, walk away.

Stay on home ground

Always arrange to meet a buyer at your home; never meet at the roadside or at their premises.

Taking payment

Never release the vehicle until you have confirmation that the payment to you is cleared funds. If you accept a cheque or banker’s draft for payment, be aware it can take days for funds to clear.