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ABC7 On Your Side: Online car scams

June 25, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A warning for those looking for used cars online: Sometimes there are scams hidden on some popular Web sites that could end up costing you a lot of money. Here is what to look for.Norma Vazquez of Bellflower drives a big SUV and so does her husband. But with gas prices as high as they are Norma wants to get a smaller, more fuel-efficient car.

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"I drive every single day, so just the cost of driving my car weekly costs me probably a hundred bucks a week," said Norma.

So Norma went in search of a used car over the Internet using Craigslist.org, AutoTrader.com and others. She found plenty of ads that fit her requirements to save money at the gas pump, and she found plenty that could have put her in the poorhouse. You see, she spotted several ads that were placed by people trying to pull a scam.

"The pictures are beautiful -- fully loaded, a car that I checked out in Kelley Blue Book and it was worth $19,000. They were selling it for $4,500. So I started looking into that. I was like, 'Wow, why is this so cheap?" said Norma.

Norma took me to Craigslist and showed me several used-car ads with beautiful pictures of late-model, low-mileage cars at ridiculous prices.

"They all seem pretty much the same type of story: single mother needing to sell their car really quickly, they need the money, so they want to get it rid of it, and that's why it's so cheap," said Norma.

Another excuse is they're in the military and are heading off to the Middle East and want to sell fast. Whatever the story, the so-called seller usually wants you to wire the money into some sort of PayPal-type escrow account tied to Craigslist or AutoTrader.

Ian MacDonald of AutoTrader.com says those accounts don't exist.

"If the seller says that we're going to escrow or handle the transaction, handle the funds -- we simply don't do that, that's a red flag; call our hotline phone number on the Web site immediately if you see that. We don't handle funds on behalf of the transaction between the buyer and the seller," said MacDonald.

AutoTrader.com and Craigslist.org do monitor their ads regularly and we found several that were eliminated by the sites for not being legitimate. But it's still buyer beware. Red flags to make note of:

  • Very low price
  • Rushing to sell the vehicle
  • Asking you to wire the money
  • Want you to use an escrow account that likely doesn't exist
  • No phone number in the ad
And finally, do as Norma suggests: "I need to see what I'm buying, and touch what I'm buying, and know that it's the real thing," said Vazquez.

 

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