Skip navigation
Jamie Gibbs

Common scams to look out for when buying a car online


Forewarned is forearmed when buying a car online. Here are some of the top deceptions employed by fraudsters, and how to avoid them.

Sad driver

Buying without seeing the car | Unreliable online payment services | Buying from a shipping company | Waiting for the finance to be paid off | Buying a car with outstanding finance on it | Buying a rental car unknowingly | Fraudsters impersonating us

Buying online is probably the most convenient way of getting a new set of wheels. Although it’s hassle-free, elaborate scams do exist, and sometimes fraudsters can fool even the most clued-up buyers.

But fear not! This guide explores the most common scams that crop up online and how you can avoid them.

Transferring money abroad without seeing the car

Shopping around abroad is not necessarily a bad idea, but it’s certainly riskier than doing it locally. You might not be able to see the car in person, which is a big no-no when buying a car. For all you know, it might not exist at all!

A fraudulent seller will ask you to transfer the money to a holding account, promising they’ll ship the car. There’s too much uncertainty, and you should be on your guard if you ever find yourself in such a situation.

Woman hiding eyes

Relying on online payment services to protect you

Online payment services, such as PayPal and Google Wallet, have made online transaction more secure and effortless. But whether you’re buying from abroad or the UK, you’re just as likely to be scammed. The fraudulent seller will probably say they’re looking for a quick sell, pushing you into wiring the money.

They may also say that you, as a buyer, are protected by the payment service – so you won’t have anything to worry about. By the time you realise no car is being delivered, the seller will already have withdrawn the amount you’ve sent them.

From that point, there’s not much that can be done. Many will even use a fake name and address to mask their true identity.

Shipping or carrier companies selling on the behalf of the seller

This scam involves, yet again, dealing with a seller who can’t meet you in person. Some might avoid calling you and suggest email as a primary means of communication.

This should be enough of a red flag for you be wary. A scam seller will mention that the car is held by a carrier company which can ship the car on their behalf.

Sometimes, the seller might even provide you with a genuine HPI report, photos and all the details you want to know. However, this doesn’t mean the car is theirs to sell. It’s a way of making the scam look more believable.

Car shipping truck

Buying a car with outstanding finance on it

A scam seller may try to sell you a car that still has outstanding finance on it. Even if they're open and honest about it, you need to know that it’s illegal. The owner can sell their car only when the finance has been settled and all outstanding repayments have been made.

Some fraudsters might even promise to keep up the payments after you buy their car, but don’t fall for that. It’s very likely they’ll just stop and the car, since it’s a property of the finance company, will be repossessed. You’ll end up with no recourse.

Buying a car with outstanding finance on it without realising

Similarly, a legit-looking seller may have every single document and the transaction may look authentic. But the scammer won’t mention the most important piece of information – the car they’re selling is still on finance. You could buy the car without realising this.

And before you know it, someone will be knocking on your door telling you they have to repossess your newly-bought ride. You can check if the car has outstanding finance on it by running a history check.

Buying a rental car unknowingly

In this elaborate scam, a fraudulent seller will rent a car for a couple of days and try to sell it to as many people as possible. They won’t look for the full amount but rather collect deposits instead.

This way they’ll get their hands on a lot of money in a very short timeframe. Unfortunately, as a buyer you’ll lose your money and never see the car again.

Seller handing over keys to a buyer

Fraudsters impersonating us offering “ Escrow”

Scammers will sometimes pose as us and offer a “ escrow service”. They will suggest you to use it to transfer the money, where in reality they control the account and you’ll be left out of pocket.

Undoubtedly, the scammer won’t ship the car because there probably wasn’t a car to sell in the first place.

We’ll never ask our customers about payments or their bank details. If anyone contacts you and they seem suspicious, never part with your hard-earned cash until you’re completely sure they are legit.


Compare new & used cars

Compare hundreds of new & secondhand cars and grab yourself a cheap motor!

Compare cars

Related articles

New & used cars

Search our latest new & secondhand car deals and grab yourself a cheap motor.

Search new & used cars