Motorists are being warned to be extra vigilant when buying vehicles from free websites such as Facebook Marketplace, Shpock and Gumtree over concerns that rogue dealers are advertising dodgy cars under the guise of private sellers.
Industry insiders have sounded the alarm on fraudulent sellers – both dealers and individuals – attempting to flog stolen, written-off and financed cars to unknowing motorists using non-specialist sites.
And with little to no legal protection for second hand car buyers in these scenarios, it means drivers can be at risk of losing thousands of pounds – and the vehicle they bought – if they purchase from these sellers.
Used car warning: Motorists are being warned about the number of cars being sold on free advertising websites that have been stolen, crashed or finance payments still due
Drivers are already having to contend with a new raft of scams aimed at them.
If it’s not fraudsters sending fake emails and text messages pretending to be the DVLA and DVSA to gain access to your private information or creating fake vehicle tax websites, they are putting motorists at risk with cash-for-crash attempts and false insurance claims on the road.
But now experts have warned about the volume of dodgy cars appearing for sale on non-specialist websites.
Car dealers, posing as private sellers, are flogging stolen cars, write-offs, and vehicles with outstanding finance on the likes of Facebook Marketplace, Shpock, and Gumtree, according to car finance experts Auto Advance.
There are also claims that unscrupulous individuals are posing as dealers to sell dodgy motors to trusting consumers.
It claims car buyers using free ad sites are falling for the deceitful listings without investigating the car – or the seller’s – background first.
Scammers are said to be using non-specific sales sites to target buyers of cheap vehicles
It follows cases raised by Trading Standards of car traders being prosecuted after selling ‘misdescribed’ vehicles that were advertised to consumers on Facebook and Gumtree.
Auto Advance said it identified the growing scale of these scams while providing loan offers against used cars.
In order to process applications, they need to see V5C documents, also known as the logbook.
It has found an increasing number of cases where the address details listed on a V5C fail to match that of the private seller a loan applicant has purchased the car from.
We asked Gumtree what policies it has in place to protect buyers against rogue sellers on its site.
A spokesperson told This is Money: ‘We are totally committed to keeping our site as safe as possible and work closely with industry associations such as VSTAG – the Vehicle Safe Trading Advisory Group – to ensure the safety of our users.
‘We’ve also partnered with HPI to give our users an easy way to check out the history of any vehicle and an advice page on how to spot fraudulent adverts can be found on our website.
‘We actively encourage anyone that thinks they may have come across such a scam to report it to us immediately.
‘Our dedicated safety team can investigate and take action such as blocking the offender from the site. If you have any doubts about a potential sale or seller, walk away and report your concerns to us so we can take action.’
Gumtree told This is Money that it has a dedicated safety team in place to block sellers identified to be trying to shift vehicles that are unfit for the road or have outstanding finance
What to look out for…
Auto Advance said there are cases of stolen cars being passed off as valid, with cunning car thieves cloning Vehicle Identity Numbers of very similar cars.
‘Although these cars rarely have the appropriate V5C logbook to go with them, sometimes these can be forged, which can often be hard to spot,’ it said.
‘Stolen cars also include hire cars being passed off as used. These vehicles are usually in impeccable condition and are tempting to buy – but they rarely come with the V5 logbook.’
There are also instances of written off vehicles being repaired on the cheap to unsafe standards and being offered to buyers without disclosure of their crashed backgrounds.
It also referenced HPI research showing the growing trend for the number of vehicles with outstanding finance on them being offered on the second-hand market illegally.
It claimed that around one in three used car bought in 2017 had outstanding finance on them.
Unfortunately, in this case a used car buyer won’t be protected by the law and if a car still has finance markers, even if a motorist has paid a full fee for it.
A spokesperson told This is Money: ‘During the loan sales process we do get innocent purchasers where we uncover that their car has outstanding finance they were unaware of.
‘In these situations, we have to trace the car back to its original owner.
‘If that then turns out to be a motor trader they must settle the finance with us direct as they are legally bound too.
‘That said, this does highlight the need for consumers to do their own checks as the vehicle may have a sinister history aside from outstanding finance.’
Those with concerns that they might have been scammed when using an online marketplace can check Citizens Advice’s dedicated page.
Kris Baldwin, managing director of Auto Advance, advises: ‘Checking a used car before you purchase is absolutely vital. Buying used, rather than new, means individuals are looking for cosmetic issues and engine problems, rather than what’s going on behind the scenes.
‘A simple, inexpensive check of the potential vehicle could mean the difference between paying your own finance agreement – and someone else’s – or simply lose the car and every penny you paid for it.
‘Look out for the warning signs too. If the deal seems too good to be true, or you’re just not sure about the seller, trust your instincts and continue your car search elsewhere. Social media can be hotbed for dodgy deals.’
You can ensure you’re dealing with a reputable garage by conducting a vehicle history report using services such as HPI check at the first point of contact if you’re really interested in the vehicle.
This should highlight any issues flagged up regarding MOT status, outstanding finance or log book loans, whether it is stolen or been written off in the past.
You can also confirm your VIN matches the one on the HPI report and your V5C document; if it doesn’t, the car could be cloned.
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