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Automotive Consumer Affairs - Used Car Scams - and How to Outsmart them!


LONG BEACH, June 22, 2011: Online car shoppers use websites like eBay Motors, Craigslist, and others to find the perfect car. However, the Internet has also become a resource for scammers, according to the National Consumers League (NCL), which saw an increase in scam-related consumer complaints during the first quarter of 2011.

The NCL received more than 100 automotive-related consumer complaints between Jan. 1 and March 22 of this year. The combined reported losses totaled approximately $293,000, according to NCL, the oldest consumer group in the United States.

“Scam artists prey on consumers in search of a bargain, and these scams are no exception,” said John Breyault, Director of the Fraud Center. “Unfortunately, the only person that’s getting a steal is the con artist.”

“Consumers need to protect themselves from unscrupulous sellers,” said Eric Widmer, vice-president of sales and operations for AiM Mobile Inspections, which recently performed its 35 millionth vehicle inspection. “Car shoppers need to have patience and common sense, and use the tools available to keep from getting taken advantage of.”

In the used car segment, two products exist to provide protection and information for consumers: used vehicle inspections, like those provided by AiM Mobile Inspections, which has 500 full-time inspectors nationwide focused on a vehicle’s current condition; and the vehicle history report, such as AutoCheck, which provides information on a car’s past.

Pat Coady and Jason Soriano are vehicle inspectors for AiM with more than five decades worth of experience between them, and are sharing ways consumers can combat scams:

SCAM: Online sales These used car scams generally involve a classified listing on popular sales and auction sites such as Craigslist, Yahoo! Autos, or eBay. The listings are generally for late-model automobiles at well below market value. In the schemes, when the victim contacts the scammer, they are told that the seller is not local and that payment for the car or for vehicle shipping should be sent via wire transfer to the seller. Often, the seller claims to be a member of the armed services who is either already deployed or preparing to deploy. As such, quick payment is necessary to ensure that the buyer received the “great deal” on the car.

Solution: Requesting to have the vehicle inspected will help verify that the car for sale actually exists. A seller who refuses to meet in person is a red flag, and regardless of where the seller is located, AiM has a nationwide network of inspectors who can go anywhere to review a vehicle for sale. A second rule of thumb: Never wire money for a sales transaction.

SCAM: VIN Tampering VIN (vehicle identification number) tampering has become more popular as crooked sellers try to hide unflattering information that may exist on a vehicle’s history report. Shady sellers have been known to search through parking lots for a car with the same make, model and color, copy its VIN and use that information to obtain a bogus history report for the car they’re trying to sell.

Solution: A professional vehicle inspection will uncover VIN tampering. “I’ve seen two or three different VINs on a vehicle,” said Soriano. “Where a car that’s been in a collision has been pieced together, even though it’s illegal, and you find out there’s parts from more than one vehicle attached to this body. That’s not a car you want to buy. There are a number of VIN locations – you have to look at more than the dashboard – and make sure they match.”

SCAM: Unreported collision damage Inevitably a dealership or body shop will end up with a car that’s been in a collision, some major, some minor. For any number of reasons, sometimes information about a collision or major damage on a vehicle goes unreported, meaning it won’t be on that vehicle’s history report.

Solution: A professional vehicle inspector knows the tell-tale signs of accident repair, whether it’s from overspray, new parts, non-factory welds, unpainted bolts or unaligned body panels. An inspection will reveal the damage prior to purchase, using photos on the condition report as proof, no matter how a seller tries to disguise prior repairs. “Sometimes it’s the car with extra loving care, where they’re really trying to hide some previous repairs,” said Coady.