Action Line: Buying a used car? BBB offers tips to avoid getting scammed

Better Business Bureau serving Central CaliforniaJuly 6, 2014 

From a reader: I am working hard and saving my money to buy a car. Every day I rely heavily on my car and drive a good distance to work, so it's important for me to have a reliable vehicle. I have already started searching for used cars online, but first I need to sell the car I already have. When it comes to selling and buying a used car, do you have any tips to offer?

Action Line: Many people rely heavily on their cars for everyday transportation. It's crucial that people make good decisions when purchasing a car to avoid costly repairs and lurking scammers.

With the Internet being the primary mode of many shoppers, it's also turned into scammer's favorite tool to target unsuspecting victims.

When selling a car, do not give out too much personal information to the potential buyer. In some situations, the buyer will send a check for an amount greater than the asking price, and ask you to wire back the difference. If the buyer's check bounces, you're out the money you wire and you're still left with the car.

Scammers will always change their pitch and create emotionally charged pitches to lure in victims, but the method they use to take your money is always the same. Scammers trick people into using a money transfer service like Western Union, MoneyGram, or Green Dot to make the transaction untraceable.

Note that many scammers will avoid meeting in person, and will only communicate with victims by email or over the phone. Don't rely on this communication and always request to meet with the buyer in a neutral location.

Here are some tips for buying a used car:

  • If the owner is asking you to wire money or is avoiding meeting you face-to-face, steer clear.
  • Check the vehicle history report of the car and find out if an accident was reported and confirm the reported mileage on the car. This report can be accessed by several different companies online and requires the vehicles VIN number to receive the report.
  • Have a trusted mechanic inspect the vehicle or request a mobile inspection. A thorough inspection could save you thousands of dollars.
  • Drive the vehicle before you commit to the purchase. If you are not allowed to test drive the car, do not make the purchase.
  • Make sure to read and understand the contract and ask questions on areas that need more clarification, be certain that all blank spaces are filled in, make sure all the verbal promises of the salesperson are included in the contract, and be certain that the type of warranty is described in the contract.

Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or

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