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Car Buying

Buying a Car: Common Scams to Consider

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author photo by Doug DeMuro

As you probably know, buying a car can be a stressful undertaking. You have to secure financing, consider your budget, read reviews, take test drives, and decide which model is really right for you. You also have to be on the lookout for scams, which can be an unfortunate part of the car-buying process. We've listed a few that you'll especially want to watch out for.

Don't Wire Money

One major scam that some thieves will try to pull involves asking you to wire money for a car, and it's almost always before you've seen it in person. This can sound tempting, especially as the amount of money you're asked to wire is often not too high, something like $100 or $500 just to hold the car or to release it from a foreign country. We strongly suggest that you don't wire money because it's unlikely you'll ever see your money or the car again.

Instead, carefully screen each seller to ensure that they're exactly who they say they are. If a seller is reluctant to provide you with his or her name or if the seller can't adequately describe the car he or she is selling, it's an obvious red flag. In most cases, you'll want to get more information before sending any money to someone like this. Sometimes, you'll just want to move on to the next car.

Don't Make a Deposit

Unless you're buying a car from a dealer, we strongly suggest that you don't make a deposit. While we already suggested that you shouldn't wire money for a car, the same rules hold true for a deposit regardless of your form of payment. Don't give any seller a deposit on a car unless you really trust them or it's a highly rated dealership that you have confidence in.

Asking for a deposit is often an easy way for the seller to get a little of your money and then disappear, so don't provide a deposit to a seller unless you're absolutely certain of who the seller is and you're sure that you want to buy the car.

Check for Damage or Theft

Although it's not a financial scam, some sellers will try to cover up significant flaws of the vehicles they're selling. Damage is one such flaw, so before you buy a used car, we strongly recommend that you run the Carfax report (which can alert you to any previous accident history) or have a mechanic check the car for prior bodywork or paintwork. In some cases, sellers can even get a title washed to change it from a salvage or rebuilt status to clear. You can never be sure unless you run the Carfax and check the vehicle's history.

You'll also want to make sure that the car you're buying isn't stolen. This might sound like a no-brainer, but some car thieves are able to steal a vehicle and have a title reissued, making it seem like they legitimately own it. Don't fall into this trap. Check the Carfax report, and run the vehicle identification number through the National Insurance Crime Bureau's database before you sign the papers.

Be Smart and Suspicious

When it comes to buying a car -- especially a used model from a private seller -- it pays to stay suspicious. If anything doesn't look right, ask the seller to clarify until you're satisfied with the explanation. If the seller doesn't convince you, don't be afraid to move on to the next vehicle.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Buying a Car: Common Scams to Consider