Car-Buying Scams: What To Look Out For

Car-buying scams are constantly changing, with new scams being created by criminals all the time. Find out about the latest car-buying scams, what to look out for so you can protect yourself, and what to do if you have been a victim of a car scam.

Rebecca Goodman Last updated on 08 September 2021.
Car-Buying Scams: What To Look Out For

From ‘ghost brokers’ selling fake insurance to car cloning cons and messages sent by fraudsters claiming to be from the DVLA, vehicle scams can be hard to avoid.

In fact, from July to September 2020 there was a 603% increase in calls to the DVLA reporting fraudulent emails, texts and phone calls compared to the same period in 2019.

Here, we explain everything you need to know about car-buying scams to help you avoid becoming a scammer’s next victim.

What car scams should I be aware of?

Scams can be hard to spot, but understanding how they work and knowing what red flags to watch out for will reduce your chances of becoming the next victim.

Here are some of the most common car-buying scams:

Car cloning

When a criminal clones a car, they copy a legally registered car’s number plates and put them on another vehicle, usually of the same make, model and colour. This means there are two near identical cars on the roads with the same number plate.

Should the car with the cloned plates commit any driving offences, the registered owner of the genuine vehicle will receive any penalty charge notices.

» MORE: Car cloning scams: what to be aware of

Ghost brokers

Fake insurers, or ‘ghost brokers’, sell unsuspecting motorists super-cheap car insurance. The catch is that the policies are non-existent, so some motorists will be driving without insurance cover.

Buyers of fake policies will usually be treated in the same way as an uninsured driver. To ensure you don’t get caught out by this scam, check whether your broker is registered with the British Insurance Brokers Association.

» COMPARE: Car insurance policies

Dirty oil trick

This scam targets car sellers rather than buyers. Two buyers turn up to view a car and one will pour oil into the car’s coolant reservoir while the other distracts the seller. This will cause smoke to come out of the engine during the test drive and the criminal buyers will try to force the seller to lower their price.

Clocked cars

Car buyers should always be on the lookout for ‘clocked cars’, where the seller has tampered with the vehicle’s odometer to reduce its mileage and increase its sale price. However, the DVLA’s online register should give you details of exactly how far a car has been driven, so always check before you buy.

DVLA scams

Texts pretending to offer discounts on road tax and emails including links to apply for refunds are among the most common DVLA-related scams. The agency says it never asks for bank details over email or sends text messages about vehicle tax refunds. These messages should be reported to Action Fraud and then deleted.

What if I have been a victim of a car-buying scam?

If you are a victim of a car-buying scam, you can report it to the police at Action Fraud. You can do this online or via its phone number on 0300 123 2040.

Your car insurance provider may also be able to offer advice and, depending on whether you have bought legal cover, may help with legal fees or assistance if you are accused of a driving offence you did not commit.

» MORE: Consumer rights when buying a used car

What can I do to avoid car scams?

The best way to protect yourself from car-buying or selling scams is to arm yourself with the knowledge of how to spot a scam.

When you’re buying a car, consider the following:

  • If something seems too good to be true, it probably is: That car you want to buy won’t be a bargain if it has been stolen. Trust your gut and never hand over money until you have carried out checks on the car and are confident it is a genuine bargain.
  • Research the price: Find out how much the car usually sells for. If the prices you find are significantly higher than the amount you’re being offered, ask why. If you aren’t happy with the explanation, don’t be pressured into buying the car.
  • Check the registration: Whether it is an online seller or you are meeting them in person, ask for the car’s details before you see it. This includes the registration number, make and model of the car. You can check these on the DVLA’s free online vehicle enquiries service, which should alert you to anything untoward.
  • Check it is the right car: Double- and triple-check the car’s details are correct. The make and model of the car can be confirmed easily on sight. You should also make sure the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN), which you can find under the bonnet, on the dashboard and on the driver’s door, matches the one in the V5C log book.
  • Watch out for scams: Never hand over your details If you are contacted by someone claiming to be from the DVLA or an insurer, either before, during or after purchasing a car. You can always check with the DVLA or insurer to see if the communication is genuine. If it is a scam, report it to Action Fraud.

» MORE: What to consider when buying a used car

Image source: Getty Images

About the author:

Rebecca Goodman is a freelance journalist who has spent the past 10 years working across personal finance publications. Regularly writing for The Guardian, The Sun, The Telegraph, and The Independent. Read more

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