Take caution when shopping online for cars

Online shopping isn’t just for small purchases anymore. Many people buy and sell cars online, whether buying new cars from dealerships or used cars from private sellers on sites like eBay and Craigslist. This can be a great way to get a good deal on the car you want, if you do your research and make sure you are purchasing a car from a legitimate site. However, buying a car sight unseen can be extremely dangerous, especially when it comes to used vehicles.

The FBI reported that from 2008 to 2010, its Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 14,000 complaints from consumers who had either fallen victim to online automotive scams or been targeted by them. The dollar amount lost to scams and fake companies is estimated to be about $44.5 million in just three years.

MSNBC reports that one online scam had set up a website that was designed to look just like Kelley Blue Book’s website. They even used copies of the exact same advertisements on the real KBB.com. These sites make offers that sound too good to be true, such as telling consumers that if they don’t like the car they can return it for a full refund.

“We do not offer this type of program,” Robyn Eagles, a Kelley Blue Book spokeswoman, told the news source. “If you run across this type of website or this type of offer, it’s a scam.”

Some red flags to watch out for when shopping online for a car include sellers asking buyers to wire money ahead of time, unrealistically low prices and sellers claiming that buyer-protection from legitimate companies will cover a transaction conducted outside of the official website. If you ask a seller to see the car before you buy it, and they refuse, chances are that they are not trustworthy.

Many fake sites also offer live chat with customer service representatives and list toll-free numbers to appear more legitimate. It is important to do your research before you hand your money over to someone, especially when using an auto loan to buy a car.

Outside of scams where people just want your money and have no cars to sell, some private sellers will also try to pull the wool over your eyes. Beware of private sellers who claim that they need to sell cars quickly for personal reasons, or “sob stories.” They may be using this excuse to disguise the real reason for the low cost of a car or to get you to buy the car without checking to see if it has problems. They could also be trying to get rid of a stolen vehicle.