BBB Scam Alert: High Demand for Used Cars Leads to Online Purchasing Scams

With used car prices skyrocketing recently, consumers are turning to the internet to find a deal. Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to hit the brakes on these types of transactions.

How the Scam Works

You see a used car listing online or through a sponsored ad on social media. You begin communicating with the seller and after agreeing to the deal, you’re asked to wire money for the vehicle to a shipping/escrow company. The seller claims they will keep your payment in escrow for five days to make sure you’re satisfied with your purchase.

In another scam, the seller claims her husband recently died and is trying to get rid of his old car because it’s “brought back bad memories.” The seller says someone else was going to buy the car but didn’t get the loan, so it’s ready to be shipped.

In each instance, the scammer makes the fraud appear legitimate by assuring the transaction will occur through a third party’s buyer protection program.

One consumer reported losing $82,000 to BBB Scam Tracker from an online vehicle purchase which turned out to be a scam. “[I] purchased a vehicle from this dealership only to find out the car does not exist nor does the dealership.” (Victim is willing to speak to the media).

After the transaction, the scammer typically ignores all follow-up calls, text messages, and emails or may demand additional payments. In the end, the consumer does not receive their car and is never able to recoup their losses. Aside from the monetary losses, consumers may put personal banking information at risk through these scams.

Avoid Online Car Sales Scams:

  • Never wire funds or complete bank-to-bank transactions. Scammers love this kind of transaction because there is no way for you to get your money back once it is completed. Instead, make legitimate purchases by check or credit card.
  • Watch out for too good to be true deals. They are most likely a scam. Scammers often steal consumers’ personal information and money by offering them high-value goods at extremely discounted prices.
  • Contact the seller by phone. At some point during your negotiations, speak with the sales manager on the phone. If they are unusually vague about certain details of the sale or cannot confirm their location or the vehicle location, it’s most likely a scam.
  • See the car first. Never buy a car without making an in-person inspection and taking a test drive first.
  • Don’t give in to pressure. Scammers often try to pressure you into giving up your personal information or making a down payment before you have time to think about the purchase. Take your time and think a deal over before agreeing to anything. If you get a bad feeling, listen to your gut.
  • Don’t trust a seller or buyer who says that the transaction is guaranteed by eBay, PayPal, Craigslist, or another online marketplace. These sites explicitly explain they cannot guarantee that people using their services are legitimate. 

For More Information:

To learn more, see the BBB tips on buying a new car and buying a used car. You can also look up car dealerships at to check their business rating and read customer reviews.

To report a scam visit BBB’s Scam Tracker at

Read the FBI’s Alert on Online Vehicle Fraud by visiting

Find new car dealers near you and used car dealers near you by visiting and, respectively.

The Better Business Bureau has empowered people to find businesses, brands and charities they can trust for over 110 years. In 2021, people turned to BBB more than 200 million times for BBB Business Profiles on 6.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on 25,000 charities, free at Local, independent BBBs can be found across the United States, Canada, and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central Indiana, which was founded in 1916 and serves 46 counties.