Five festive scams to be aware of when buying a car

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Five festive scams to be aware of when buying a car at Christmas

If a car is the perfect Christmas present for your loved one this year, make sure you’re aware of some common scams before handing over your cash. 

Car checking company, My Car Check, is warning motorists to be extra vigilant over the festive period – the time the company sees a ’significant increase’ in vehicle crime.

Roger Powell, head of CDL Vehicle Information Services (which owns My Car Check), said there are two main reasons for the increase.

“Firstly, it is traditionally a quiet time for vehicle sales, so criminals double their effort to overcome the lull,” he said.

“Secondly, criminals, like the rest of us, have more outgoings over Christmas, except they boost their income by conning innocent members of the motoring public.

“When our call centre team talk about ‘the Christmas rush’ they mean the sharp increase in enquiries concerning suspicious adverts and dodgy deals. All these scams occur throughout the year but we see big increases during December, so used car buyers need to be extra vigilant.

 “Tell-tale signs include lines such as ‘it’s cheap because I need a quick sale’ or ‘I’ll bring it round for you’ and pressure tactics like ‘I’ve got another buyer coming in an hour’.

“Our advice is to trust your gut feeling and never pay cash.”

Five common scams:

1. Online escrow con

A potential purchaser is informed the vehicle is currently abroad and will be shipped as soon as money is paid into an ‘escrow’ holding account.

My Car Check advice: Don’t do it. You’re unlikely to ever see your money again and the police will be unable to investigate as you ‘willingly’ transferred the funds.

2. Stolen/cloned vehicles

Criminals steal a car and change the number plates to disguise it so you now have two vehicles with the same superficial identity driving around.

My Car Check advice: Check the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) as well as the plates. Look at the left side of the windscreen underneath where the old tax disc would go.

3. Not theirs to sell

One in four cars on UK roads is covered by a finance agreement - hire purchase, lease, PCP or bill of sale. The provider often retains legal ownership until the debt is cleared in full.

My Car Check advice: Don’t enter into agreements where you pay the seller on the understanding they’ll use the money to clear the finance – that’s sub-hiring and it’s illegal. Most finance companies now accept third party payments directly from potential purchasers, leaving the seller with the remaining balance.

4. Cash deals in car parks

Agreeing to hand over cash at a neutral location is music to a criminal’s ears. Once they’re gone, they’re usually gone for good.

My Car Check advice: Completing the handover at the seller’s address, which should match that on the red and blue V5C, is good practice. No log book, no sale is another golden rule.

5. Sold with only one key

All seems fine but the vehicle only comes with one key. Sometime later the buyer finds their car has disappeared. No prizes for guessing who had the second key.

My Car Check advice: It’s an old trick but it still works. The seller claiming to only have one key should be a definite deal breaker.

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