Note the spelling. Another clue to a phony foreign car salesman or buyer? The ads are often in scammer grammar, with frequent misspellings, misused words and other language errors.
Check your “winning” bid. When shopping at online auction websites such as eBay Motors or Yahoo, note that the “winning” bid will be posted. Beware of e-mails that come to you directly and are not posted on those websites as the winning bid. Scammers can simply capture your e-mail address and pose as the real seller.
Mind your money (and other paper). If you’re shopping for a car online, get a photocopy of the vehicle title and registration, and do a CarFax check of its vehicle identification number (VIN) to ensure its existence, location, and accident and repair history. (Many dealerships offer this report for free.) Never wire money to buy a car; any request to do so is likely a scam. When selling a car online, wait until the bank says the “money has been collected” on any deposited checks from the “buyer”—a process that can take up to two weeks. Hearing the check has “cleared” is not enough.
Vehix provides more tips on preventing an online car transaction scam, and LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com offers information on other online scams. If you’ve fallen victim to an online car transaction scam, report it to your state attorney general. Forward suspicious e-mails to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of "Scam-Proof Your Life" (AARP Books/Sterling).