How I got scammed on a vehicle purchase and how you can prevent it from happening to you!

Let’s face in… in this day and age its hard to trust a lot of people.  The scammers are plentiful and we’ve all heard some type of horror story in one way or another.  A lot of times we fall in love with a vehicle and we tend to foregoe our complete and full due diligence before sending someone money because of FOMO (fear of missing out).  I’ll be the first to admit – I’ve sent people money and never really felt 100% confident I was dealing with a good intentioned person.  Oddly enough, the one and only time I was ever scammed on a vehicle was from an eBay transaction.  I spoke to the seller of the Jeep, made an offer through the eBay app, seller accepted and then I paid him the money via bank wire the following day.  I received tracking information that the title was shipped to me and I was working on vehicle transport.  I received the envelope from USPS, opened it up (expecting a title), and discovered there was just a white piece of paper in the envelope with a drawn smiley face.  I went back on to eBay and checked the Seller’s feedback and discovered he scammed out 3-4 people all during the same day. When I made the purchase, the Seller had a low feedback count, but all feedback was positive.  He made his move and scammed out several people all at once.  Luckily for me, the purchase was covered under eBay’s vehicle protection program and I was refunded all my money after about 90 days.  I don’t think the scammer was ever caught!  This is the one and only time I’ve ever been scammed and it felt horrible!

You HAVE to be careful dealing with people.  Mike and I have purchased hundreds of vehicles throughout the years and we can share some great tips with you to help you minimize the chance of getting scammed out of your hard earned money.  We’ve broken the process down to a few simple steps:

  • Buy from a reputable company
  • Get a copy of the seller’s drivers license
  • Ensure the seller’s name matches the name on the title
  • Complete the financial transaction in-person
  • Utilize safe methods for financial transactions
  • Trust your gut!

Buy from a reputable company

When you purchase your vehicle from reputable sources (VIN Hammer, eBay, etc.), you drastically increase the odds of a positive transaction because the platform usually vets their sellers.   VIN Hammer requires the Seller to show proof of clean/clear title before we list their vehicle for auction.  If the title does not match the seller’s name, we won’t list it.  This is the first step to minimize your chances of getting scammed.

Get a copy of the seller’s drivers license

I always exchange a photo of my drivers license with I’m purchasing or selling a vehicle to someone.  As the buyer, I always explain to the seller that I like to know who I’m dealing with before sending them a bunch of money.  I’m usually the initiator of the drivers license photo exchange and that tends to put the seller at ease. Generally speaking, there’s no PII (personally identifiable information) on the drivers license that someone cannot obtain from a Google search, but people are sometimes apprehensive sending a stranger this information.  If they refuse to send their drivers license, ask for a photograph of a recent electric bill or something else that can prove their name matches the geographic area they’re selling the vehicle from.

Ensure the seller’s name matches the title

OK, so I’ll be the first to admit I’ve purchased a vehicle, never got around to titling it, and sold it with the title in someone else’s name.  This practice is generally frowned upon, but could work if the buyer and seller are ok with this practice (we’re not recommending anyone do this).  With that being said, people obtain photos of titles and may say “they’re selling on behalf of their uncle” or something along this line.  VIN Hammer highly recommends only purchasing a vehicle from the person listed on the title, unless it is a dealer (dealer’s can endorse).  If there are two people listed on the title, ensure the title is endorsed by both sellers.

Complete the financial transaction in-person

Probably the best way for you to ensure you’re not going to get ripped off is to complete the financial transaction in-person.  Even if the seller is 6-8 hours away from you, it may be worth your while to travel to complete your financial obligation in person.  You can visually inspect the title, take physical possession of the title immediately after payment, and you can conduct a money exchange at your financial institution.  Always the safest bet right here.  Its not always feasible to complete the transaction in person…we get it.  Just be cognizant of who you’re sending money to.  Make sure you’ve spoken to the person on the phone.  Make sure their bank is not an overseas/foreign bank.  If you’ve spoken to them on the phone, you can usually legitimize the seller very easily be assessing their language, communication skills, etc.

Utilize safe methods for financial transaction

Whether you’re buying or selling, its always a great idea to meet at a bank to exchange funds.  The bank can often immediately validate the funds and confirm successful receipt.  In general, wire transfers are very safe and the quickest method of payment, but you need to obtain information to initiate a bank wire such as complete name, home address, bank address, account number and routing number.  People are often apprehensive giving out this information to someone they don’t know… I get it.  To alleviate this concern from sellers, I’ve had my bank call their bank the bankers exchange this information to each other over the phone.  Though I know wire transfers are very safe, not everyone is familiar with how safe they actually are!  Cashiers checks and bank checks are also good methods for payment.  When a cashiers check or bank check is drafted, the money is guaranteed because it has already been debited from the buyer’s account.  However, before mailing off a title its always a good practice to ensure the bank check has cleared and your account is fully funded.  Cash is also great, but we recommend cash transaction be done at a financial institution where they can ensure the money is not counterfeit.  NEVER MAIL CASH!

Trust your gut!

We can’t stress this enough….if you have a bad feeling about the seller and something just isn’t right, you may want to reconsider your purchase!  Remember the old saying: if the deal is too good to be true, it likely is!  Research research research!  If you’ve searched Google, Facebook, online, etc. for this person and you can’t find any trace of them, good chance this person does not exist!  Some people are good at hiding their online identity, but you can usually fine something on a legitimate person!  I generally get a vibe one way or another after talking with a seller and if I don’t have a warm fuzzy about the person I’m dealing with, I tend to stay away.

If you have any stories, recommendations, etc., please feel free to leave a comment in the comments section.