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Buying a Used car Online; Don't Get Munsoned

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On: Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 4:35PM | By: Clay Ritchings


Buying a Used car Online; Don't Get Munsoned

If you are in the market for a car or truck, there are sites, like AutoShopper.com, where you can put in your zip code and start looking through local seller offerings. The internet has given us all the ability to become more educated on pricing, quality, and reliability before we ever set foot on any car lot. All this convenience comes with a price: safety!

While the vast majority of online car deals go through without a problem, a number of scams have specifically targeted internet auto buyers. Many of the scam artists work their deception from Eastern-bloc countries or even African countries, such as Nigeria. These criminals pursue their victims with special dedication, operating with the belief that rich Americans deserve to be Munsoned. In this post I will cover a few common sense guidelines to help protect you.

Whether buying or selling, it is important that you try to deal locally with people you can meet in person. This alone will cut would-be scammers by 99%. The inability or refusal to meet face-to-face before consummating the transaction is a tip-off that it may be a scam. You should also consider meeting at a public place, like Starbucks; they are always loaded with people hanging out, all hopped up on liquid crack. If you have to meet them at your place, make sure you are not alone.

If you can’t deal locally, you should always be cautious of inquiries from someone far away, often in another country. Many times you receive an email offering to buy your item, sight unseen, wanting to pay with a cashier's check that often far exceeds your item amount—scammer offers to "trust" you, and ask you to wire the balance via money transfer service. Would you buy something online and send too much money and trust that they send it back? Hell no you wouldn’t! Use common sense! In fact, if you accept anything other than cash, you increase the risk of being shafted. Banks will often cash these fake checks and you are responsible, including criminal prosecution, in some cases! Remember, scammers will often request Western Union and Money Gram transfers or offer fake cashier's checks, personal checks, and money orders. Get cash!

If cash is not an option and the car is local, you can always meet at the bank and have them draw up the cashier’s check right in front of you. While at the bank you should have the bill of sale document notarized. This brings up the next point; if you are the buyer or seller, always draft up a bill of sale stating all the terms of the sale. A vehicle bill of sale is imperative when you sell or buy a vehicle. Why is vehicle bill of sale important? Well, if any problem arises later, the document will help the seller or the buyer to prove their case. In addition, the bill of sale serves as proof the buyer really bought the vehicle and owns it, and it is paid in full. Last, but not least, you should include the fact that the car is sold “as-is”. Bill of sale examples and templates are available all over the internet for free download.

Do not fall for the “Escrow Account” sham; most online escrow sites are frauds that are operated by the scammers themselves. Don’t believe me, do a Google search on "fake escrow" or "escrow fraud" and see what you come up with. If you have to use an escrow company, Escrow.com is a well-established company recommended by eBay.

Be suspicious of ridiculously low offers, particularly those connected to sob stories. Before buying a car, check KBB.com or NADA.com to find out what its market value is. If someone claims he's selling a vehicle at a low price because he needs the money fast (he lost a job or is a soldier going overseas, for example), be cautious. Sure, we all want to get something for little or nothing, but greed and/or naiveté is a sure way to get nothing at all. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

You found the car of your dreams, now what? Verify that the vehicle exists. Start by getting a phone number from the seller and calling him or her. Don’t rely solely on email communication. Ask the seller to send you a copy of the vehicle registration and the VIN, which you can use to get a vehicle history report from Carfax. Don't rely on the photos. Go see the vehicle personally or, if the seller is in another state, ask the seller to take it to a mechanic of your choosing, who can report back to you about the condition of the car. I suggest that you hire the services of a vehicle inspection company, like automobileinspections.com, to inspect the vehicle. eBay recommends SGS Automotive Services of Cincinnati, which offers inspection service throughout the United States. Inspections for most cars cost $99.50, but the peace of mind is, well, priceless.

Never give out bank information, social security number, Ebay or Paypal information to anyone. This also applies to scammers that call your home trying to pry information from you.

Websites, such as AutoShopper.com, do their best to stop the scammers; it’s an everyday game of cat and mouse. No matter if you are buying a $12 item on eBay, fish tank on Craigslist, or shelling out thousands on your next car on AutoShopper.com, online diligence is a necessity. Always use your common sense and pay attention to your intuition. If something feels wrong, make sure you check it out carefully; you wouldn’t want to get Munsoned.

If you suspect an ad is bogus, or you have fallen prey to one of these scams, you should report it to the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).


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