Alex Kindred, car insurance expert at Confused.com highlights five of the most common types of online car scams and the signs customers should look out for to avoid being targeted.
1. Fake Insurance
Reports from Action Fraud show that ‘ghost broking’ saw nearly a 10% increase on the previous year for the total number of reports for this type of fraud. Of those reports, around a third came from victims aged 17- 29.
Ghost broking is a form of insurance fraud that sees victims unwittingly buying fake motor insurance policies. With individuals losing an average of £599, along with the risk of driving with invalid insurance, the experts stress this is something you need to be cautious of.
The repercussions of using a ghost broker are not only financial. If involved in an accident, you could face unpaid claims, fines and even convictions due to lack of legal insurance. In extreme circumstances, your car could even be at risk of being crushed or your license at risk of being lost.
There are several signs that can indicate potential ghost brokers.
Ghost Brokers often use mobile telephone numbers as well as communicating via WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Legitimate Insurers are more likely to use a non-mobile telephone number.
Non-English speaking newspapers also tend to advertise on student websites, social media platforms and money-saving platforms.
Always keep in mind that if an insurance quote is considerably cheaper than several others you have received, it could be being offered by a fraudster.
A legitimate insurance broker with proper authorisation should be listed on the British Insurance Brokers’ Association website. Therefore if the ‘broker’ isn’t on there, doesn’t have their own website, or only discloses a mobile phone number or an email address as a contact, you should definitely be suspicious.
A selection of ghost brokers also have websites – some convincing and some less so – but this doesn’t mean they are legitimate.
2. Car cloning
Car cloning is when criminals steal the identity of a legally registered vehicle and use it to hide the identity of another stolen or salvaged car that’s similar in appearance.
Usually, the cloned vehicle is then either sold illegally or used to carry out further motoring offences, ranging from speeding to more serious crimes like ram-raids, with offences incorrectly attributed to the owner of the cloned car.
Unfortunately, there is no real way of preventing your vehicle from being cloned. Typically, the owner of the real vehicle finds out that it’s been cloned when they get a letter warning them of a traffic offence that they’ve apparently committed on the other side of the country.
When buying a used car, make sure you ask the seller for the details of the car before you meet, including the registration number, make and model of the car, which you should then run through the DVLA’s online vehicle enquiry service.
When inspecting the car itself also make sure all the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) on the vehicle match each other and those in the V5C logbook, as this could identify the car as having false documentation. As well, look out for an address on the logbook.
You should always check a car’s history and VIN against the records on the RAC’s Vehicle History Check. While RAC Vehicle History Check won’t tell you outright that the vehicle is a clone, it will give you important details on whether the car has been scrapped or stolen, as well as any discrepancies on behalf of the seller.
This is often referred to as ‘curbstoning’ and if you believe you are a victim of this, inform the police immediately.
3. Scams ‘from the DVLA’
A popular scam used over the past few years has sent innocent motorists emails, phone calls and text messages from fraudsters posing as the DVLA or someone writing from the GOV.uk domain, often offering car tax refunds if they click on a link.
The link will then ask you for personal details, including a contact email and number and banking information, attempting to trick you into sending your bank details or payment to the scammers. Scammers will then use this to attempt stealing money or undertaking identity theft.
Normally these fraudsters will pretend to be someone or an organisation you trust, whether it be your Internet Service Provider (ISP), local council, or even a friend in need. They commonly contact you by phone call, email or text message.
In a scam text or email, their goal is often to convince you to click a link and once clicked, you may be directed to a dodgy website which could download viruses onto your computer, or steal your passwords and personal information. However, over the phone, the approach may be more direct such as asking you for sensitive information like your banking details.
It is important to know that the DVLA does NOT send emails or text messages with links to websites asking you to confirm your personal details or payment information. They have advised anyone who receives this type of message to delete it immediately.
Customers should report suspicious emails to the NCSC immediately and anyone concerned they may have been a victim of fraud should contact the police through Action Fraud straight away.
4. Virtual Vehicle Scams
Virtual vehicle scams involve fake shipping websites that promise to handle and look after your money. Once you express interest in buying the car, which is currently located abroad, you are directed to a fake website for a shipping company that will handle the transfer of funds including shipping costs.
The shipping company claims that they will transfer the funds to the vehicle seller when you have taken delivery and confirm that you’re happy with the vehicle. However, the funds may be transferred but the vehicle never appears.
If an offer sounds too good to be true it probably is. Remember to never hand over money to someone you don’t know for a vehicle you’ve not seen. Put yourself in the seller’s shoes and ask yourself would you ask a stranger in the street to hold several thousand pounds of your money while you wait for another stranger to deliver a car to you.
‘Paper cars’ are another version of this, normally websites with copied adverts from elsewhere on the web, but with knock-down prices. Always remember, don’t part with your money until you’ve seen the vehicle.
It is recommended that you should use money transfers as a means to purchase goods only when sending money to someone they already know and trust.
5. Fake Escrows
When selling a car online, this is a scam where a fraudster will pretend to be a buyer and use a fake escrow service – where a third party holds funds before being transferred from the buyer to the seller – to hold the money for a car purchase. After the seller turns over the car title, they quickly find out that the escrow money can’t be withdrawn.
To help identify this activity, typically you will see the potential buyer recommending usage of an unknown escrow company or a company posing as a legitimate escrow company, often indicating that they would only feel comfortable completing the transaction through an escrow service.
The fake escrow site will then indicate to the seller, either through email or a status update on their site, that they have received the money for the transaction. While the seller will then think that the money is secure, and ships the goods to the buyer, the buyer will take the goods and the seller won’t receive any money from the escrow service.
Remember to be wary the moment the seller begins to stipulate an escrow site to complete a transaction and never be pressured into using a particular escrow website or service.
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Other things to remember here is;
- Never assume a company that has a website is legitimate, if you cannot reach a company’s customer services department this is a red flag.
- Check for copied endorsements on a website by check id seals like TRUSTe, VeriSign Secure, and Better Business Bureau are on the website
- If you are asked to pay money to an individual rather than a corporate identity or asked to make payment using a person-to-person money transfer – consider it a fraudulent scheme.