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You can buy practically anything online, including used cars. But before you shell out any hard-earned cash, here’s a warning about scammers trying to sell cars they don’t have or own.

Here’s how the scam works: Criminals post ads on online auction and sales websites, like eBay Motors, for inexpensive used cars (that they don’t really own). They offer to chat online, share photos, and answer questions. They may even tell you the sale will go through a well-known retailer’s buyer protection program. Recently, sellers have been sending fake invoices that appear to come from eBay Motors and demanding payment in eBay gift cards. If you call the number on the invoice, the scammer pretends to work for eBay Motors. Trusting buyers have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year alone.

So how can you tell if an online car sale is fake?

  • You find bad reviews online. Check out the seller by searching online for the person’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”
  • Sellers try to rush the sale. Resist the pressure. Scammers use high-pressure sales tactics to get you to buy without thinking things through.
  • They can’t or won’t meet in person or let you inspect the car. Scammers might have an excuse, like a job transfer, military deployment, or divorce, for why you can’t see them or the car. But experts agree that you should have an independent mechanic inspect a used car before you buy it.
  • They want you to pay with gift cards or by wire transfer. If anyone tells you to pay that way, it’s a scam. Every time.
  • The sellers demand more money after the sale for “shipping” or “transportation” costs.
  • The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) doesn’t match the VIN for the car you’re interested in. A vehicle history report can help you spot such discrepancies.

For more tips, check out ftc.gov/usedcars and Online Auction Buyers. Want to avoid the latest rip-offs? Sign up for free consumer alerts from the FTC at ftc.gov/subscribe. If you spot a scam, report it at ftc.gov/complaint.

 

47 Comments


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The purpose of this blog and its comments section is to inform readers about Federal Trade Commission activity, and share information to help them avoid, report, and recover from fraud, scams, and bad business practices. Your thoughts, ideas, and concerns are welcome, and we encourage comments. But keep in mind, this is a moderated blog. We review all comments before they are posted, and we won’t post comments that don’t comply with our commenting policy. We expect commenters to treat each other and the blog writers with respect.

  • We won’t post off-topic comments, repeated identical comments, or comments that include sales pitches or promotions.
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  • We won’t post threats, defamatory statements, or suggestions or encouragement of illegal activity.
  • We won’t post comments that include personal information, like Social Security numbers, account numbers, home addresses, and email addresses. To file a detailed report about a scam, go to ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

We don't edit comments to remove objectionable content, so please ensure that your comment contains none of the above. The comments posted on this blog become part of the public domain. To protect your privacy and the privacy of other people, please do not include personal information. Opinions in comments that appear in this blog belong to the individuals who expressed them. They do not belong to or represent views of the Federal Trade Commission.

Filthy Lucre
June 17, 2019
Scammers are also selling hulks onl eBay and misrepenting the condition. When the hulk arrives, eBay will tell you that you bought a car and you got a car and will not assist you with the purchase.
CRM
June 17, 2019
Good info as I am in the market for a vehicle.
Brian Don't us…
June 17, 2019
Beware of water cars lots of flooding in south and other parts of country I have seen car fax reports where many are for sale in Tennessee but we’re from Texas and Florida
Impala 58
June 17, 2019
They also take pictures of vehicles, in out of the way places like gravel roads, empty lots, or cars that are viewed through trees or other shrubbery, as not to reveal any site details. This may also be indicative of a stolen vehicle.
That was close!
June 17, 2019
Buyers of RVs beware of scammers pretending to work though e bay and using the same tactics listed above. Beware of Craigslist and RV trader sites. They are FULL of these fraudulent entries. Scary! I learned my lesson and luckily they got nothing from me.
KOYB
June 17, 2019
Don't expect help from ebay, read the fine print very carefully. I purchased a utility vehicle , normally sold nation wide thru auction by specialized companies - first time it was perfect; year later this time I lost $15000 because the seller lied about everything, even when directly questioned about specifics and pictures - filed a complaint with ebay and got no help
Julianne E
June 18, 2019
excellent article. thanks!
EYES ALWAYS OPEN
June 18, 2019
Watch out for the buyers also, that reach out to you to purchase an item you are selling. They say, I will mail a certified Cashiers Check, and arrange a company for pickup. What really happens is, yes.. There is a cashiers check, yes there is a group of people that come get your items.. what you don't know is the cashiers check is fake.. so while you are watching your items and or car being removed, your holding on to a fake cashiers check. You were just robbed and are probably watching your items go down the street :(
No lose of wor…
August 13, 2019

In reply to by EYES ALWAYS OPEN

You are correct and I just went thru thyis as a seller on C.L but the part you left out was them asking for my name and which bank I use. that has happened the last 2 times on Craiigslist. Bottom line is everybody needs to be cautious and to keep your guard up. the little voice in your head going " WARNING -WARNING" is usually right. after the fact is too late to resolve a bad situation
TickedoffmamaC
July 02, 2019
Saw a nice truck on Autotrader, low price, "she" won it in the divorce is going to deploy with the AirForce and needs to sell quickly. Plates in photo were BC, not ontario, wanted money taken to a convenience store and put into Bitcoin. All protection plan through eBay Motors and even spoke to customer support person. After deposting money in BitCoin truck would be sent to us and we would have 5 days to inspect. Could return truck at no cost. Thank God we listened to intuition... too good to be true!
T
June 05, 2020

In reply to by TickedoffmamaC

Did They Contact You By Email ?
cobra
August 08, 2019
how can a used car advertise.. was $$ now $$ when theris no msrp
Buyer Scams
September 13, 2019
Scams and fraud are not exclusive to buyers but sellers as well. Selling my Toyota Tundra through Craigslist to person who claims to be military. They claimed they cannot come to see the vehicle, but agree right away to purchase. They indicate they cannot go to their bank but will transfer the funds through PayPal and then ask for your personal account information. They tell you they will have a third party come pick-up and sign for the vehicle. The grammar is poor and they stress their honesty, but cannot meet, deal directly, or provide legitimate funds for purchase. Please note that all of these are indicators and shown in both Craigslist and PayPal indicating a potentially fraudulent or scamming purchase;... buyer and seller beware!
Ned
December 20, 2019

In reply to by Buyer Scams

I almost fell for a scam "eautowin traders", they had a professional looking website. eautowin . com / consignment-centralstore / search- stock/ HG557464. html. Turns out the truck was on another sellers legitimate website, in fact it had already been sold. Phony invoice, looked real to me Online live chat, I questioned the legitimacy of the truck and they terminated the chat. Bottom line do your research and question everything!!!
Luew
November 06, 2019
Beware of vehicles shipped or transferred in from southern states . Im the 2016-17 hurricanes and flooding .
Be careful out…
November 11, 2019
A new twist on this is where it's posted via NextDoor (a neighborhood social media site) from a real person in the local community but apparently it's a fabricated NextDoor profile. It tells you to email her 'aunt' directly for more info. Of course, the aunt is in VA and ready to deploy with her infantry and needs to sell the car asap and is willing to sell it cheap...
CMichael
April 09, 2021

In reply to by Be careful out…

This scam is still going. I Saw a listing and made an inquiry And when I went back to for the listing I saw the same one listed in several States and several cities with the exact same contact information for email. The listing required me to contact someone supposed aunt in the military to set up the transaction. I realise that it was a scam and immediately reported to the FTC . Apparently the same scan has been going on for at least a couple of years based on the previous blog posted in 2019. I highly encourage anyone that comes across this or any other Internet scam to report it to the FTC so that these criminals can be caught and they stop taking advantage of people and stealing their money.
Tee
October 12, 2021

In reply to by Be careful out…

This just happened to me. Saw an ad that said communicate with my aunt via email. The aunt just stated she's in VA getting ready to deploy aneed to sell ASAP. Will have Ebay motors to set up everything.
Dee
April 25, 2020
There are scammers on offerup using ebay to have you pay for vehicles with ebay cards. I've been scamed.
Mimi63
May 07, 2020

In reply to by Dee

They’re still out there. I had a woman try this on me within the last 3 days. The car was listed in my state but ended up being across the country due to a divorce. She and ‘eBay’ wanted me to put up the purchase price for the car as an act of good faith, then asked the next day for $600 additional dollars for shipping insurance.
AnneK
May 31, 2020

In reply to by Dee

This just happened to me. This morning. Nice person selling their vehicle through Ebay motors. I even spoke with someone in their "financial department" I'm sick right now. The invoice looked so real. I'm filing a police report but I know I'll never get my money back. These people are disgusting.
Moments away f…
June 07, 2020
I was just moments away from being scammed, but saw this article. EVERYTHING this article warns of, the seller did to me. Wouldn't let me call her or come see vehicle. "Invoice" looked legit at 1st glance, but was missing words and had multiple grammatical errors, so I decided to research. She is active military and on "base" right now and MUST sell the car within a few days, etc. Smh. Then invoice tells me to GO PURCHASE EBAY GIFT CARDS as my only form of payment. I'll be reporting her as soon as I'm done typing this sentence.
Broken Hearted
June 09, 2020

In reply to by Moments away f…

I am sick right now!! My son saved his money to purchase his car. I thought this was legit, we bought $800 in eBay cards now I can't return them!
Moto buyer
June 09, 2020
I'm trying to purchase a motorcycle, and the seller said they will send the motorcycle to me and allow me to inspect and test ride for 5 days with out any exchange of money. They said that this is through an eBay service. Just sounds too good to be true
nottasha
June 09, 2020
I have some one on ebay trying to sell a perfect 1995 Chevrolet pick up her name is Sara Cox I’m afraid to buy the truck cuz it could be a scam
Sugarfoot
June 12, 2020
I'm in the market for a new car. Since my son totalled mine. I think I have two scammers on my gmail right now trying to get me to burn a 2004 and a 2007. They look brand new and will ship to me through Ebay. I'm starting to get what's going on.
LR Blair
June 19, 2020
My husband and I bought a golf cart for $800, the listing on Facebook, but seller's a member of ebay motors, so we bought $800 worth of ebay gift cards to purchase the golf cart, but since we used the gift cards towards our purchase, we can't get a hold of the seller or ebay motors for over a week
Billy Bats
June 24, 2020
They use same scam for Boats
Rob28murray.rm…
November 27, 2020
96 Impala SS on Facebook marketplace is a scam. Ridiculous low price and want to be paid in eBay gift cards.
Mtbikeed
December 13, 2020
Saw this amazing truck . Seller said she'd go throu ebay motors for a safe transaction. But was very nervous about it after research. Was told def a big scam using fake like ebay motors ads and payment forms. Her name is Irrma davis so Carolina. Add help would be appreciated. Thos cancer survivor cant handle much more? Thank you!!!!
Shelley Pittsburgh
February 24, 2021
This scam continues with somewhat different scenario. Seller is in Kansas; husband's car who recently died (heart attack), bad memories. After I thought about it more and did some research including contacting someone from eBay, they said it sounded like a scam. I knew it was too good to be true; 2009 Honda Accord for only $800. She did send me pictures of this nice looking black Honda parked in a driveway of a nice looking neighborhood. Some people just have too much free time.
Kelly
March 19, 2021

In reply to by Shelley Pittsburgh

Thanks for your post on this. You just saved me from a big loss. Same exact details on a deal I was try to purchase a car.
KLM
April 10, 2021

In reply to by Shelley Pittsburgh

OMG SAME HERE!!! That’s EXACTLY why I’m on this site right now. This woman had the same story except now she’s in Fort Wayne. It’s a 2009 BMW only $1000 ?? Sounds so fishy I knew it was a scam despite the pictures of the car on a busy street
sherilynn
April 21, 2021

In reply to by Shelley Pittsburgh

I just had similar senerio, this women was selling a white Honda Accord only 107000 miles for $1000. She showed me pictures and said ebay would deliver it to me. She said she was being deployed and her husband passed away a few months back. She then told me I would keep it for five days and then decide if I'm going to buy it. I am going to assume soon I will get a call or email asking for account info! Such a scam
Mimi Hun!
July 23, 2021

In reply to by Shelley Pittsburgh

I had the same woman from Kansas City name was Judith K James and she claim that she had throat surgery and her daughter was depressed because her "husband" passed away from Heart Attack
CantScamMe
October 24, 2021

In reply to by Shelley Pittsburgh

This is currently going on with me too. Another too good to be true and also in the second response they said "they will confirm the fact that the transaction is conducted through them and I'm a legitimate seller" which in and of itself is a red flag. They know it sounds scammy and they said that without being questioned. Her husband died and she has horrible memories. She already moved to Montana and I will have 5 days to test drive the car. So ridiculous.
Me112233
March 30, 2021
I just saw this same scam on a rare, antique car. Pictures of a PERFECT 1963 Imperial convertible (531 made) for only $7,500 (fair value for this absolutely immaculate car would be $60,000 to $75,000). It was claimed to have only 11,000 miles on it. "Woman" wrote that husband died a few months ago (it was his car) and she has to sell to cover bills. She also said she had her thyroid removed and was convalescing at her parents' house in Nebraska, and had already arranged for the car to be shipped to the buyer. The pictures were actually scans of old physical photographs found in high-end magazines of the day (LIFE for example), excellent quality, yet not the same rendering that today's point-and-shoot digital photography provides. No engine compartment or open-trunk pics provided, yet those pics are typical of classic car ads.
Tyrone Washington
April 15, 2021

In reply to by Me112233

Huge red flags just popped up for me. I've been shopping for a 1960's Corvair. Two weeks ago I got a letter from "Ruth Lee" who is recuperating from thyroid surgery at her late parents house in Nebraska. Her husband used to say "life is to short to drive a boring car". This evening I just got a reply from "Anna Watkins" about a different car. Can you imagine my shock when her letter was EXACTLY the same as "Ruth Lee's", a word for word copy. They must be sisters recovering from their thyroid surgery at their late parents house in Nebraska. I didn't know there was so much thyroid disease going around. BTW, the cars in question were listed on Kloompy and Trovid. I'm beginning to think that every car for sale on the internet is a scam. I'm changing my search strategy to joining enthusiast forums and looking there. Then I can do background checks with other forum members to confirm the validity of the seller.
Slashback
April 19, 2021
Got this advert on Auto Trader of a 2011 Corrola with an email to contact seller. Said she was in London after a divorce and got the car awarded to her from her divorce. Requested for inspection, she said it shut up in a shipping company in Halifax. Requested for CARFAX report, said she is not in possession of the VIN but will find everything in a green bag under the driver's seat. That all she needs is my name, phone number and address to setup payment on ebay and will send it to me to inspect for 5 days after which I can pay. Found this so good to be true and don't see how that works.
dragonbits
May 05, 2021
Can someone tell me any legitimate reason to be required to pay in gift cards of any sort? From what I can tell from these stories is that weird ways to pay and bizarre excuses for not being able to inspect the car is the common element here.
Renncore
June 10, 2021
Just got the same scam on Facebook marketplace questioned it and said I would jump on a plane never heard back.
gracebrown72
June 28, 2021
i was scam big time when i tried to buy a car after i got the gift card and send in the information i was asked to send extra money so right now i have no car no money can somebody let me know what do and i saw the same car on face book up for sale again
csoctagon89
August 05, 2021
The below warning did happen to me, which I wish reading it prior to my mistake. I just paid the seller $1,300. I think it's GONE, but I ask anyway. Is there a way to get my money back ? ___________________________________________________ They want you to pay with gift cards or by wire transfer. If anyone tells you to pay that way, it’s a scam. Every time.
WhitewolfMissouri
August 29, 2021
Just saved my wife $1400.00. She found a Jeep Wrangler for sale on ebay (supposedly) and bought $1400.00 worth of ebay cards. She wanted me to finish the transaction for her per the instructions in an email, but I discovered the scam. The seller is listed as Sarah Hamilton claiming to live in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, I don't think we can return the ebay cards, but at least we still have them and can spend them on legitimate purchases.
Bondjuan
September 17, 2021
Recently was contacted by EcarsOVS storehouse. Same tactics. No website. Wire money and an unbelievable deal on classic car. Be aware. Too good to be true. It’s not. When I questioned No response
shelton s
October 12, 2021
I was scammed out of $400.00 after receiving info from a seller on ebay stating that all transactions are processed thru ebay/ they recommended that I get ebay gift cards and send them the information for deposit of $400.00/ they advised me to give them all the information on front and back they also sent a phony invoice with the seller.