Known internet fraud schemes

"Watch out, pickpockets!" Whoever sees this warning on public places automatically pays attention to their wallets.
If you have a lot of people there are always some scammers who are up to no good. This is no different in the World Wide Web.
Selling and buying cars online has become mainstream. At the same time, fraud schemes have evolved which are used to trick unwitting buyers and sellers.
If you know the tricks and are careful, you should be able to sell or buy a car over the Internet without any trouble!

Here are the most common types of scams to watch out for.

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.

After advertising the sale of your vehicle, you receive a phone call from a potential buyer. The caller claims to be unable to collect the car personally, suggesting to arrange pickup by a forwarding company. To win your trust, the person suggests to send you a payment confirmation from an online payment service in advance. On the arranged date, the assigned forwarding company has someone pick up the vehicle against a receipt. Subsequently, the fraudster denies ever having received the vehicle and “freezes” the supposedly transferred money. In this way, the fraudster undermines the basically useful buyer protection of the online payment system. However, since the receipt from the forwarding company is not suitable to prove beyond doubt that the buyer did actually receive the car, the payment is usually refunded to the “buyer” after a few weeks. Should a potential buyer propose this procedure, you should actively address the problems involved.

Another variant of this scheme is that the alleged buyer sends a third party to meet with the seller to conclude the contract and/or to take possession of the car. This proxy produces a fake power of attorney and copies of the alleged buyer’s identity papers. The ID papers are usually stolen from a third party. As proof of payment of the purchase price, the proxy produces a fake e-mail confirmation/receipt of the bank transfer. After the purchase, the vehicle is sold to a buyer who has no knowledge of the previous fraud scheme but who cannot rightfully gain ownership of the car and who is obliged to return it to the original owner. This scheme defrauds both the original seller, who never gets the purchase price and the subsequent buyer who cannot obtain the car or who has to return it if obtained. When the private seller is not inscribed in the vehicle papers as the owner, buyers should always be prudent and verify whether they are dealing with a legitimate seller. The seller’s claim that he/she is a commercial reseller and the fact that he/she is in possession of the vehicle papers and keys do not set aside the prospective buyer’s duty to verify the seller’s legitimacy. Buyers should further be aware that a confirmation (printout) of a bank transfer does not mean that the funds have actually been credited to the seller’s account.

Insist that the buyer pick up the vehicle personally and sign a sales contract with subsequent payment in cash. If the person refuses, you should become suspicious and terminate your contact with them.

Repair cost fraud scheme

21.08.2013 13:08

A car has been sold successfully – the transaction went smoothly and without a hitch. Several days later, 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, blaming the seller for his/her ‘negligence’. The actual buyer is currently abroad, the caller says and asks the seller to transfer a certain amount to a specific (usually foreign) account.

This scheme exploits the seller’s fear of being regarded as a fraud. On top of that, the seller feels guilty about having overlooked a defect despite thoroughly checking the vehicle. The fraudsters operating this scheme meticulously observe Internet sales and contact sellers. The sellers themselves usually know nothing about the supposed defect nor do they suspect a fraud scheme.

You have been contacted by a potentially untrustworthy or dishonest caller? Find help here…

Insurance fraud

18.11.2012 16:12

A “prospective buyer” answers your advert, asking for the insurance data of your vehicle, allegedly to look into the cost of insurance. Using your insurance data, the scam artist then files a fraudulent insurance claim.

A prospective buyer calls after seeing your advert posted on the web. He/she alleges to be interested but somewhat reticent about high insurance costs. He/she asks about your insurance premium. Upon hearing the amount, he/she asks who your insurer is, allegedly to compare premiums with his/her insurer. He/she may also ask for your licence plate number and other vehicle data.

Actually the scamster intends to file a fraudulent insurance claim in the name of a fictitious garage or work¬shop (windscreen repair and replacement are very popular claims). Of course, you never had any such claims and if your policy includes a no claims bonus, this insurance scam could drive your insurance premium up.

Please note: Before posting photos of your vehicle on the Internet, make sure to mask/obliterate the licence plate. Never give any prospective buyer information about your insurer, your terms and conditions etc. or disclose your licence plate number, either personally, over the phone or in writing. By withholding such information, you give scam artists less of a chance to find relevant information regarding your vehicle and insurance.

You were contacted by a prospective buyer and have disclosed your vehicle and insurance information? Find help here

Potential buyer responds to your car selling ad, claims you confirmed sale by e-mail, threatens to sue for damages.

You have advertised your vehicle for sale and receive a phone call from a potential buyer. To confirm the date agreed for the inspection of the vehicle, the potential buyer asks you to send your address by e-mail or to send an “ok” reply. In some other cases, the buyer simply sends a test e-mail requesting you to confirm it.

In actual fact, the e-mail is a confirmation of the alleged sales contract, usually indicating a much lower price than the real value of the vehicle. From this moment, the scam artist insists on compliance with the contract terms, i.e. the selling the vehicle at the price he claims was agreed.

If you are not prepared to sell the car to the prospective buyer or if you have already sold it, the fraudster will threaten to start proceedings and to claim damages for non-compliance. He/she will claim that your e-mail proves the validity of the sales contract. In exceptional cases, the court may even rule in favour of the fraudster.

You should therefore be particularly careful when answering unrequested e-mails from potential buyers. Always describe the the situation in detail and the reason for the e-mail and carefully store the entire e-mail correspondence between you and the potential buyer. This will minimise the chances of fraudsters finding any clues that will qualify as a confirmation of a sales contract.

You are in contact with a potentially scam artist and have already received a sales contract or a threatening letter? Find help here

Notary fee due in advance

18.11.2012 16:11

A buyer from abroad responds to your ad and wants to send a motor vehicle expert to asses your vehicle; cash payment including a notary fee, notary fee due before vehicle delivery

A prospective buyer from abroad (often purporting to be a car dealer) wants to buy your vehicle. A sales contract is concluded. The buyer wants to send a motor vehicle expert to pay in cash and take delivery of the vehicle if there are no serious defects. The prospect also says that a fair competition law requires the bill of sale (sales contract) which will be send to be notarised and this involves a fee which the seller is required by law to pay. The prospective buyer suggests that the notary fee be added to the agreed sales price to hold the seller effectively free of any expenses. Just before the delivery date agreed with the expert, the seller receives a notary’s invoice requiring the seller to remit the notary fee before the sale. Expecting this payment to be reimbursed when the sales price is paid, many sellers remit the relatively small notary fee. After the remittal, neither the prospective buyer nor the motor vehicle expert is ever heard of again. The seller loses the sum remitted.

You have been contacted by the prospective buyer and/or motor vehicle expert and are asked to remit a payment for a notary’s fee just before the agreed date of sale. Find help here 

Account fraud

18.11.2012 16:10

Buyer, generally from abroad, replies to your ad and asks for account verification making two small deposits

Interested buyers, mostly from abroad, contact the seller. Claiming the foreign bank needs to verify the account details, the buyer makes two small deposits less than 1 Euros each into the seller’s account. After that, the seller is asked to validate his/her banking data by confirming the deposit totals to the buyer. Alternatively, a verification code is required for the deposit. The trick: scammers abuse the verification procedure of online payment services. Knowing the bank details and the deposited amounts and/or the code, scammers open their own payment service account specifying the seller’s account. This gives scammers full access to the seller’s account without the seller’s knowledge.

You have communicated the account details / test deposits / payment code?
Find help here 

Money has left your account? Find help here 

No digital documents

18.11.2012 16:10

Never e-mail vehicle certificates or identification documents when selling or buying a car!

Receivers of digital documents have no problems to masquerade under the identity of the actual owner of the documents and act in his or her name. This does not necessarily require the identity thief to forge the documents using editing software. In the worst case, electronic documents can be used to commit a crime such as for instance fraud in the name of the rightful owner. This could have rather unpleasant consequences as e.g. criminal prosecution.

Be careful! Never copy or scan and e-mail vehicle certificates or identity papers to interested buyers!

Intermediary scam

18.11.2012 16:09

After advertising your vehicle online you receive an SMS or e-mail request to contact a marketing company. The company pretends to be able to serve as an intermediary between you and interested buyers for a fee. Fees are typically between €59 and €119 and no written guarantee of service is given. More often than not, the sender is an online marketplace you know or who was supposedly recommended by a reliable source.

These are illegal business practices or even scams by bogus companies. Research often reveals that their websites and e-mail addresses are false. There are three variations of the „intermediary scam”:

Contract/invoice after phone call

  • When calling the indicated number you are promised a potentially interested buyer. A few days later, sellers agreeing to have the contact arranged will receive an invoice for this service. They will receive collection letters, if they do not pay the invoice. No contact takes place between the seller and the potential buyer.
  • After the phone call you receive an unsolicited invoice (instead of the requested information materials), although no customer has been procured.
  • After the phone call you receive a contract covering – contrary to what agreed over the phone – not the successful procurement of customers but inclusion in a database (verify Terms & Conditions!).

Important: Online marketplaces are efficient platforms for establishing contact between sellers and buyers. There is no need for an additional intermediary – even if you are promised a potential buyer!

You are in contact with a potentially untrustworthy or fraudulent intermediary or have already received an invoice? Find help here…

Cheque fraud

18.11.2012 16:08

Cheque fraud: buyer replies to your advertisement, buyer is based outside Germany, pays by cheque made out for more than the asking price

A prospective buyer located outside Germany contacts the seller and typically does not hesitate to accept the purchase price. Using a pretext, the buyer wants to pay using a banker’s draft made out for more than the asking price, and wants the seller to return the excess funds in cash or by money transfer. Some days later the cheque bounces and the seller has no payment but lost both the car and the wire transfer in the worst case.

You have made a payment? Find help here…

No money transfer!

Western Union, MoneyGram or similar providers are often misrepresented as escrow services when payment by money transfer is suggested e.g. for check fraud purposes. 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 built-in additional identification.

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