First Aid: what to do if...

With its “how to buy” tips and description of known fraud schemes, Initiative Sicherer Autokauf offers information for safe online car shopping in Germany.
The tips below are concrete examples of how to react if you stumbled over a potential fraud. The measures cover the situations below:
1. You discover a suspicious ad
2. You are in contact with the seller
3. You are in contact with a buyer
4. You have made a (partial) payment

Money has left your account

18.11.2012 16:36

Having placed your ad, an interested buyer, generally from abroad, notifies you of his/her intention to buy your vehicle. However, his or her bank’s verification procedure requires that two different amounts of less than 1 Euro each are deposited prior to making the full payment. You are required to confirm the deposit amounts, or the payment code, to the buyer.

  • You have disclosed the above transaction data. After that, an online payment service has debited your account without your knowledge or consent?

What to do:
Immediately call the payment service provider handling the debit operation and block your bank account. In addition, report the scam to the police and file charges.

The money was delivered to the receiver

  • You have arranged for payment by bank remittance or money transfer and the money was delivered to the receiver.

What to do:
1. Contact the online marketplace where you found the ad and ensure that the ad is immediately withdrawn to prevent any further damage.

2. In Germany: Report the scam to the police and file charges without delay either calling personally at your local police office or online. In both cases, keep the required details at hand. Online marketplaces only disclose any details required for an investigation to the prosecuting authorities at request.

3. Keep copies of the correspondence with the seller in your e-mail software and print an additional hard copy.

4. If you are a member of an automobile club, you are normally entitled to use free legal advice in Germany. You will receive valuable tips on how to proceed.

Money paid

18.11.2012 16:35

By bank remittance

  • You have arranged for remitting the money and promptly realise that this might be a scam.

What to do:
Immediately contact your bank and try to cancel the remittance. In Germany, you can have a refund of the money as long as the sum was not deposited into the receiver’s account! Do not give in to the delaying tactics of the alleged seller who promises to remit the money back to you!

By money transfer

  • You have arranged for a money transfer via Western Union or MoneyGram and realise promptly that this might be a scam.

What to do:
Immediately contact the provider you instructed to wire the money and request that the transaction be stopped without delay. If the transaction has not already been paid out, you can have the sum refunded in Germany. Do not give in to the delaying tactics of the alleged seller who promises to remit the money back to you!

The money was delivered to the receiver

  • You have arranged for payment by bank remittance or money transfer and the money was delivered to the receiver.

Find help here 

Buyer contact

18.11.2012 16:34

After you post your ad, you receive the SMS, “contact us” form or e-mail of an intermediary, typically based outside Germany, asking you to contact them.

Phone offer to procure a potential customer

  • They offer to procure interested buyers – you are to pay a fee (flat or depending on the purchase price) to the intermediary. The fee is invoiced before you actually sold the vehicle.

What to do:
Do not accept the offer and do not contact the company. If in doubt, use the “contact us” form or phone the online marketplace or your automobile club and ask whether they know the company and can confirm its trustworthiness. Do not pay any invoices or payment reminders, unless you actually sold the vehicle to the procured buyer.

You have received a contract for intermediary services

  • You have received a contract covering not the successful procurement of customers but inclusion in a database

What to do:
Do not sign a contract which requires payment of the fee regardless of the successful procurement of a customer. Carefully check the provider’s Terms & Conditions. If in doubt, do not accept the offer and do not contact company or return the contract. Use the “contact us” form or phone the online marketplace or your automobile club and ask whether they know the company and can confirm its trustworthiness. Do not pay any invoices or payment reminders, unless you have signed the contract and actually sold the vehicle to the procured buyer.

Disclosure of account details and test deposits or code is requested

  • Having placed your ad, an interested buyer, generally from abroad, notifies you of his/her intention to buy your vehicle. However, his or her bank’s verification procedure requires that two different amounts of less than 1 Euro each are paid to your account prior to making the full payment. You are required to confirm the total of the deposits, or the payment code, to the buyer.

What to do:
Never comply with the request and neither disclose your account details nor the amount of any small deposits nor a code!

  • You have disclosed the account details / test deposits / code?

What do do:
Open a PayPal account without delay (if you have disclosed the test deposits) or a click-and-buy account (if you have disclosed the code) and link it to your bank account. A bank account cannot be used for more than one payment services account. If you are unable to create a link because your account is already connected to another payment services account, immediately report to the payment service provider and block your bank account for the debit transaction.

  • Money has left your account?

Find help here 

Notary’s fees are required up front before vehicle delivery and payment

  • A prospective buyer, often from abroad, is interested in buying your car and wants to send a motor vehicle expert to see and take delivery of the vehicle. Upon inspection, the expert is to pay for the vehicle in cash. The bill of sale (sales contract) needs to be notarised. The seller is asked to remit the notary fee before the sale, which the prospective buyer promises to reimburse with the sales price.

What to do:
Never comply with any requests of payment of notary fees before you deliver and receive payment for your vehicle, even if the buyer promises to reimburse you. If unsure, contact your Internet car sales portal or your automobile club either by using the on-line form or over the phone and ask whether they know the prospective buyer and whether the offer can be deemed to be serious.

  • You have made a payment?

Find help here 

Buyer threatens to sue for damages

  • You are in contact with a buyer who insists on buying the vehicle and threatens to claim for compensation.

What to do:

  1. Do not let them intimidate you!
  2. Do not sell your vehicle if you do not believe in the deal.
  3. Keep the entire correspondence with the buyer in your e-mail programme and also as a printed copy.
  4. Automobile club members are usually entitled to get legal advice free of charge. Use link to obtain helpful tips on what to do next.

You suspect the “prospective buyer” of planning an insurance scam.

  • You have already given the suspicious prospect your insurance data and he/she has already obtained your licence plate number, either directly from you or from the photos of the vehicle posted on the Internet.

What to do:
If you have suspicions, inform your insurer. They will monitor all incoming claims more closely to prevent the insurance fraud.

Repair cost fraud scheme

Several days after a car sale, somebody calls the seller on the phone, pretending to be a friend of the buyer’s. The caller claims that the vehicle turned out to have a defect shortly after the sale and the seller should bear the repair cost partly or fully.

What to do:

  1. Ask for the caller’s name, personal details and phone number.
  2. State clearly that you do not think the caller is acting on behalf of the buyer. If in doubt, ask for details of the transaction which only the buyer and you know about and demand to be shown evidence of the caller’s authorisation. An aggressive reaction to your questions should make you even more suspicious.
  3. Try to contact the buyer immediately to verify the caller’s story! Do not transfer any money, unless you have spoken with the buyer or an absolutely trustworthy person representing the buyer. You should never transfer money to an unknown recipient.
  4. Think twice about transferring money to a foreign bank account. Such transfers are usually irreversible.

You have already transferred the money? Find help here…

Seller contact

18.11.2012 16:33

Contact & inspection

  • The seller insists on e-mail communication only and is not available over the phone.
  • The seller continues to refuse a test drive or vehicle inspection for various reasons.

What to do:
Play it safe and give up on this offer. Better pass on a supposed bargain rather than incur unnecessary risks. Report the ad to the online marketplace using the link provided and tell them your experience.

 

Payment terms

  • In the course of the transaction, the seller insists on advance or down payment.
  • The seller insists on involving an alleged escrow service or shipping company to handle the purchase.

What to do:
Never remit any money or make a down payment! The normal procedure is delivery versus payment, i.e. you pay when you receive the vehicle and vehicle certificates! Online market portals in Germany do not offer escrow services – Exception: the eBay Motors escrow service.

 

Escrow service / shipping company

  • The seller insists on involving an alleged escrow service or shipping company to handle the purchase.

What to to: 
Since Internet car marketplaces are not involved in the actual purchase process, they cannot offer such service. The “stop escrow fraud” group has compiled a list with known fraud sites and keeps it up to date. You can find an overview of known escrow fraud sites including their screenshots here!

 

Confirmation-e-mail from the Internet marketplace

  •  The Internet marketplace confirms the legitimacy of the vehicle and the seller’s bona fides.

What to do:
No Internet marketplace verifies the data of its users. Break off contact with the would-be seller and do not conclude a sale. Use the link provided in the ad to report this ad to the hosting Internet marketplace and give an account of your experience.

Checking vehicle reports and stickers

  • The seller affirms that the data about the vehicle condition is correct, referring to the documents provided (e. g. service history booklet, exhaust emission test report and general inspection report) and the stickers on the vehicle.
  • However, after inspecting and test driving the vehicle, you are in doubt about the correctness of the information.

What to do?
Check if all important documents are available (e. g. Part I and Part II Registration Certificate (registration certificate and ownership certificate), exhaust emission test report and general inspection report, service history booklet). Check the service history booklet. Was it updated regularly and is all information comprehensible? It is very important that you check the general condition of the vehicle. Is a recent general inspection reasonable at the present moment? If you are in doubt, contact the technical inspection agency (e. g. TÜV, GTÜ, DEKRA) which inspected the vehicle according to the documents provided. Alternatively, go to a workshop and have the car’s condition assessed by an expert. The stamp in the registration certificate or the vehicle report shows where the vehicle has been assessed. Moreover, you will find the contact data of the workshop which carried out the last inspection in the service history booklet. GTÜ Gesellschaft für Technische Überwachung mbH even enables to check over the Internet whether or not a vehicle was inspected by GTÜ. For the GTÜ search, please click here…

Checking the odometer reading

  • The seller claims that the mileage is correct pointing to the figures on the odometer. However, you are in doubt about the correctness of the information.

What to do?
Do not rely on seller’s claims such as “mileage as per odometer” or “mileage as read“. The seller is just providing information without guaranteeing or warranting anything. Insist on a written confirmation of the “actual mileage” in the purchase agreement. Take a thorough look at the car when you go to pick it up – does its appearance match the indicated mileage? A closer look at specific parts of the vehicle may provide some indication as to the credibility of the mileage shown. In cars that have covered many miles, the shift stick and steering wheel sometimes bear discernible traces of handling and rubber pedal pads look heavily worn. Frequent opening and closing also leave marks on the plastic covers of oddment bins and on door seals. However, the absence of any visible cabin wear and tear does not guarantee a low (actual) mileage. The materials used in modern cars are much more wear-resistant and may hardly look worn even in vehicles with a six-digit mileage. You should therefore check the oil change tag in the engine compartment as well as the service tag on the B pillar, the service history booklet in the glove box and other documents in which the mileage is noted – which should not be higher than the figures shown on the odometer. In addition, ask the buyer for documentation of odometer readings (workshop invoices, exhaust emission and general inspection reports, fuel receipts with the mileage shown, etc.). The exhaust pipe may be a good indicator of the actual mileage: When a car has been driven through many winters, the exhaust pipe connection clamps become corroded. We also recommend to have the vehicle inspected including DTC memory readout by an independent entity (ADAC, DEKRA, GTÜ, KÜS, TÜV, etc.). Some DTC entries are stored along with a mileage reading. Higher mileage figures than those on the odometer may be an important clue that this is a fraud. Do bear in mind, however, that mileage fraud will be difficult to prove even with state-of-the-art workshop equipment. Please click here for further information (german)…

Suspicious ad

18.11.2012 16:30

Here are some clues for a suspicious ad:

  • The vehicle is too cheap – it appears too good to be true.
  • The contact details seem dubious – the seller insists on communicating by e-mail only.
  • The ad requests advance payment, contact to an alleged escrow service or payment to a forwarding agent or shipping company.
  • The telephone number is fake, i.e. it is not the seller who answers or the number does not exist.

What to do:
Use the “contact us” form or phone the online marketplace or your automobile club and have them check the suspicious ad. Most online market portals for cars in Germany provide a direct link to report suspicious ads. If in doubt, better pass on a supposed bargain rather than incur unnecessary risks.

If you are requested to contact an escrow service or shipping company:
Usually, online market portals do not offer escrow services. An exception is the eBay Motors escrow service. Escrow-fraud.com provides a topical list of fake escrow services and shipping companies and works to have them removed from the Internet. For an overview of these companies including screenshots of their homepages and the escrow fraud search page click here!

Suspicious e-mail:

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

What to do:
If in doubt, use the “contact us” form or phone the online marketplace and ask whether this is a genuine e-mail. Never disclose any sensitive data in response to an e-mail!

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Comments
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th. comments on:

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lars Grollmisch comments on:

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