Concealed vehicle history

18.01.2016 08:49

Whenever you come across an astonishingly inexpensive used vehicle, you should take a very careful look. It might be a vehicle imported from the USA where it has been declared unroadworthy and can no longer be sold.  In some cases, flood or accident damaged vehicles are not salvaged, as required by US insurance companies, but exported to Europe for sale.

These vehicles are inadequately repaired at minimum cost in countries like Poland and Lithuania. For instance, already deployed airbags are not replaced with new ones but merely simulated as being operational by resistors. If worse comes to worst, such defects may pose a fatal risk.

The best protection against fraud is a healthy distrust of imported vehicles with unusual delivery routes. Asking specific questions will allow you to identify any discrepancies in the vehicle history presented. If the latter mentions any damage from accidents, you should demand a detailed description. We also recommend that, before you buy a vehicle, you should have a trusted expert or an inspection station examine such a seemingly good bargain for potential flaws and test-drive it at length.

Specialised on-line portals like provide vehicle history information against payment. All you have to do is enter the Vehicle Identification Number, i.e. the vehicle’s fingerprint. However, there is no guarantee for a complete history.

Internet car sales portal sends an e-mail certifying that the sales offer is legitimate and the seller’s bona fides

A seller from abroad offers a car for sale at a very low price. Before concluding the sale, the buyer receives a (fake) e-mail from the Internet marketplace where the car is on offer.

To win the buyer’s trust, the e-mail says that expecting a “healthy dose of skepticism”, the seller proactively requested the Internet marketplace to verify the vehicle and the seller’s bona fides. In addition to the certification from the Internet marketplace, the e-mail provides corroboration of the vehicle and seller’s legitimacy from reputable organisations such as ADAC and the police.

In a next step, it suggests to the buyer to use the shipping company recommended by the seller for payment and shipping, purporting this would minimise the risk.

These e-mails are fakes! No Internet marketplace sends e-mails to potential buyers vouching for the legitimacy of the vehicle and seller. Nor will any Internet marketplace recommend any best modalities for handling the transfer of the vehicle. The use of escrow services or shipping companies is uncommon and often indicative of fraud.

You have contacted a seller and receive a confirmation e-mail from the Internet marketplace? Find help here…

Inspection and hand-over

18.11.2012 16:07

Some principles apply to all potential car buyers, regardless of how they found an interesting offer.

Make sure you remain sceptical about offers that seem too good to be true – they usually are! Nobody will volunteer to sell their car far under value. This might by an attempt to capture sensitive data or even con you out of your money.
Your data might be misused, your money lost – and it might turn out that the car did not even exist.
Also, it might be an attempt to get rid of a stolen or worthless car.

Protect yourself and take precautions if an offer is too good to be true:

  • Investigate the actual market value of the offered car. Compare it to other cars of the same model with similar equipment.
  • Have somebody else inspect the car with you who may be able to discover any potential hidden defects.
  • Carefully check all documents and complete the deal in writing. Ensure that the agreement mentions any additional features such as alloy rims or a high-end radio system.
  • Pay only as you receive the complete documents and keys – and the car!
  • Never be on your own when you have major sums on you. Ask someone you trust to go with you for protection. Avoid unusual or isolated locations. We recommend to agree money hand-over in a bank where the parties can check whether the money is genuine and pay it into the own account.
  • Read the small print in the ad: to appear at the top of the list, some sellers offer a different price halfway down the ad.

You stumbled over a suspicious car, have contacted the seller or even made a payment? Our First Aid section provides concrete help in a number of situations.

Forged documents

18.11.2012 16:06

Nowadays it is quite easy to scan official documents such as identity cards and vehicle registration documents and to forge them using image editing software. So never completely trust documents sent by e-mail.
Always ask for the original documents when you meet the seller and match the vehicle identification number. It is typically located under the bonnet and embossed on the body of the vehicle. On many modern vehicles there is also a “visible VIN” on the front windscreen.
This is the only way to verify that the vehicle documents are those of the vehicle you inspect.

In some cases even this may not be sufficient. There have been break-ins into vehicle registration offices, with the thieves stealing blank registration documents which were then passed off to buyers as original documents after professional editing. Such forgeries are virtually impossible for the layman to tell apart from genuine official documents and are identified as such only at the reregistration of the vehicle. If it then turns out that the vehicle was stolen, the buyer cannot acquire the title of ownership and has to surrender the vehicle. Should the vehicle merely have been embezzled (not stolen!) from a car rental company, for example, the buyer may acquire the vehicle in good faith, but there will usually be a dispute about whether the buyer did actually acquire the vehicle in good faith. To really be on the safe side, the buyer and seller should meet directly at the vehicle registration office and reregister the vehicle there together.

Never provide your own documents electronically, as they might be misused for criminal purposes. This applies to both the vehicle documents and personal documents such as identity cards or bank documents like for instance receipts.

Before buying a vehicle, always make a critical assessment of expert reports on the vehicle’s technical status (e. g. service history booklet, exhaust emission test report and general inspection report) and the relevant stickers on the vehicle (particulate matter or general inspection stickers). There have been several cases where the seller forged the reports or stickers to mislead the buyer about the vehicle’s condition.

You have already made contact with a seller but you doubt that the reports and/or stickers are correct? Click here for assistance…

Odometer tampering
Take an extra careful look at the mileage reading. In most cars, clocking or mileage fraud can be done easily enough. Usually carried out via the OBD interface, it leaves no detectable traces. “Mileage correction” is offered all over the place and is quickly and readily available at low cost. According to police estimates, one in three used cars are sold in Germany with their odometers rolled back. So, before you buy a used car, take a good look and check if its appearance corresponds with the indicated mileage.

You have already made contact with a seller but you doubt that the mileage reading on the odometer is correct? Click here for assistance…

Fake e-mails

18.11.2012 15:56

E-mail phishing (short for “password fishing”) is a widely used technique to acquire sensitive information of Internet users.

Phishers send fake e-mails to random e-mail distribution lists masquerading as well-known and trustworthy companies. The e-mails direct users to enter privileged login data at a website. These are fake websites which are similar in appearance to the websites of well-known providers.
The captured data is used to empty bank accounts or otherwise misuse private user accounts.
Some online car marketplaces were also used as alleged senders of phishing e-mails. Phishing targets included car dealers who were asked to disclose their login data.

Online car marketplaces will never ask for sensitive data in an e-mail. Access to the car ads is free and without obligation. You only disclose your data when registering with an online marketplace and using special services e.g. to run a search or to save a selection of vehicles – but this is done at the website and never by e-mail.

Unsolicited e-mails with attachments also involve potential risks: They might hide software (e.g. a virus/trojan) which manipulates the user’s own computer and gives third parties access to sensitive data. So never open such attachments.

You think that you have received a phishing e-mail? Find help here…

Advance payments

18.11.2012 15:55

German Internet classified ad marketplaces only establish a contact between you as the prospective buyer and the seller. This does not imply that the supplier’s identity and reliability were verified, nor does it confirm that the vehicle really exists. So never pay in advance. This also applies to any finance offers for which your credit status has not been checked: Only if you have a contract in your hands should you make any special payments, pay a deposit, commission or service charge.

This applies regardless of whether it is a private individual or car dealer wanting to sell a vehicle.

You have made a payment? Find help here.

No money transfer!

Online money transfer by Western Union, MoneyGram or similar providers is often misused as an alleged escrow service. Online money transfer, however, is mainly intended for use by persons who know each other (friends, family). This type of transfer is not suitable for paying online car transactions, even if it appears that there is a built-in additional identity check. These are two popular schemes with buyers:

Example 1: Extreme bargain, seller outside Germany, payment by Western Union/MoneyGram
After emailing the seller, the interested buyer is asked to send a deposit by money transfer in order to confirm the purchase intention. As a proof of the money transfer, the seller asks for the buyer’s name and the reference number. Now knowing the sender’s name, the country of origin, the expected amount and presenting a fake personal identification, the seller can collect the money. Since the identification documents used to collect the money usually are excellent forgeries, the buyer loses the money with no means to reclaim it – and the offered car does not exist at all. Some buyers are even informed that the money was on its way back due to problems with the account. These are delaying tactics to complicate recovery of the money.

Example 2: Extreme bargain, seller outside Germany, payment via forwarding agent/shipping company
The alleged seller indicates a forwarding agent or shipping company as the escrow service handling the payment. This company’s website disappears from the web after a short time and reappears at a different address. The sites usually are good fakes and appear trustworthy. Especially if a business is based abroad, the money is usually not recoverable. Some buyers are even informed that the money was on its way back due to problems with the account. These are delaying tactics to complicate recovery of the money.

Example 3: Money transfer to friend to confirm the purchase intention or solvency of the buyer or as a security
The interested buyer is requested to prove his or her solvency and purchase intention by transferring money to a friend or family member and e-mail a copy of the payment slip. The buyer feels safe, knowing that the money will be collected by a person he or she knows. Knowing the recipient’s identity, however, the criminal can easily produce forged identification papers and pick up the money.

Special case money transfer/check fraud: buyer replies to your advertisement, buyer is based outside Germany, pays by cheque made out for more than the asking price.
To view this example, go to the cheque fraud section in the seller section.

You have made a payment? Find help here.

Caution, escrow service!

Many scammers use an escrow service, shipping or logistics service as front to inspire confidence. Since Internet car marketplaces are not involved in the actual purchase process, they cannot offer such service. Classified ad marketplaces in Germany do not offer any money transaction services, nor do they advise against or recommend a particular method of payment. Also, they do not use classification systems indicating particularly trustworthy sellers or premium members.

You have already used an escrow service? Find help here.

False escrow services

Latest ADAC warnings refer to an escrow service operated by the law firm and notary services DigiMedia-Medienrecht ( allegedly based in Berlin. The fraudsters slightly modified the name and address of a reputable solicitor with offices on Kurfürstendamm in Berlin to offer their scam escrow service for car sales. Contacting the law firm actually residing on Kurfürstendamm, it turned out that the solicitor there does not operate any escrow services and that another person offered this service using the solicitor’s name. According to information given by the competent bar association, the website is hosted in another country. This is why it has so far been difficult to remove the website from the Internet. However, the office of the public prosecutor has already been notified of the fraud.

You have already made contact with the seller. Click here for assistance…

Alleged notaries public

In escrow arrangements, a seemingly reliable transaction has been subject to this kind of fraud: A bank pretends to sell a vehicle as part of a liquidation sale. When the potential buyer contacts the alleged bank, the fraudster pretends to be a notary public, explaining that buyers would not be able to see the vehicle because of the liquidation sale but that they would be entitled to return the vehicle. A contract would be drafted to be signed by the seller and buyer at their respective homes. After signing the contract and prior to obtaining the car, the buyer would have to make an instalment in an escrow account.  Paying into a seemingly secure account and under the impression of a notarised escrow procedure, buyers are made to believe that this is a straightforward purchase without any risks. As soon as the buyer makes the payment, the alleged notary public is no longer available.

You can find further information here

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