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Should You Buy a Car Online?

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Is online car shopping a good idea? It is true that most car buyers here in Houston head to the Internet to do research about autos and their prices, but is purchasing a car from the same place one does car research recommended? Considering the fact that online car scams are rampant, online car shopping seems unwise. Even a careful consumer could be duped because online car buying scams are now more sophisticated than ever. What seems like a legitimate sale can leave you without money and without the car you thought you bought.

Understanding Online Car Buying Scams

There are several ways scammers trick online car shoppers. One way is through misrepresentation: what you see on the website is not what you get. Some sellers manipulate images to make the vehicles look way better than they really are in real life. In fact, the online images could be extremely photo-shopped that the vehicles look nowhere near their true appearances. The manipulation is done to hide obvious defects like rust, dents, cracks and chips in the paint. The consumer will only find out about these apparent problems after the sale.

Misrepresentation can also go beyond a car’s appearance. Some sellers advertise a vehicle as one with clean and accident-free history, but in reality, this is not the case. The advertised vehicle could have been involved in an accident and is badly repaired. In other times, the car being sold may not have the features mentioned in the advertisement.

Unfortunately, there is a more elaborate scam that traps online buyers. It begins with a used vehicle sold on a reputable site for auto advertisements. The car is offered at a low price for a seemingly believable reason. The seller will tell the buyer to use a third-party escrow or wire-transfer service for partial or full payment, though the chosen third-party service provider is not involved in the transaction. Then, the buyer will be asked to email or fax the wire-transfer receipt to the seller so that the delivery can be scheduled. That delivery will never happen.

When Buying a Car Online

Many car buyers are interested to purchase online because they prefer a straightforward transaction. Most consumers hate the tedious process of going to the dealership and dealing with annoying salesmen. If you are determined to buy online for the same reason, be very careful. Pay attention to the little details as these could be signs you are about to become a victim of an online car shopping scam.

What red flags should you watch out for? One is a price that is too low to be realistic: beware of cars sold below value, regardless of the story attached to it. Second is a sale where the car and the seller are not in the same place. Third are inconsistencies or changes in the midst of negotiations. If the story or terms of the sale suddenly change or the seller moves the sale from one website to another, know that you are being duped. Fourth is a seller that demands money upfront or requests to use a wire-transfer service.

If the seller asks for payment through a particular escrow company, research about the company before sending money. Ensure that it is licensed. Find the company’s contact details on your own, contact the company and speak to a representative. If you find their website, send them an email question. Receiving no response from them is a bad sign.

Yet another bad sign is the car being sold ‘As Is.’ This should immediately make you suspicious. You will shoulder all repair expenses after you purchase the vehicle.

Remember that you are less likely to be scammed if you buy from a reputable seller. Make sure to research the business online or check the dealership’s rating with the Better Business Bureau. Moreover, never buy a car without inspecting the vehicle yourself and having it inspected by a trusted mechanic.

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