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Fraud Awareness Tips

Because there is no foolproof way to prevent fraud, awareness is the best defense. Please review our tips below, and use your best judgment in all transactions. Help us stop fraud. If you receive a suspicious email or are the victim of a scam, email us described below and contact the appropriate law enforcement authorities right away.

  • Step 1: If you are the victim of a scam, please complete our I Was Scammed form, with as much information about your particular situation as possible.
  • Step 2: Forward any suspicious emails to us immediately at fraudwatch@autotrader.com. Don't change the subject line or send it as an attachment because doing so could prevent us from identifying trends and preventing similar scams. To speak directly to a Fraud Watch Customer Service Representative, Call 1-877-742-8040 (Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Eastern time).
  • Step 3: File a complaint with the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx) to inform federal and state law enforcement agencies. We strongly recommend that you report fraud to local law enforcement as well. Autotrader investigates submitted reports in an effort to protect our customers against future fraud. We support law enforcement agencies in the prosecution of Internet criminals and work diligently to prevent fraud.

We don't own, buy or sell vehicles listed on our site.

Autotrader is an online vehicle listing service that connects car buyers with sellers. We are not car dealer. Any listing information about a particular car comes directly from the seller--not from us. If you receive an email that implies we're selling or buying a vehicle, please report it to us and to law enforcement. It's most certainly a scam.

We don't offer automotive warehousing or shipping services.

Any email that requests a deposit or payment for a shipment of a car stored in an Autotrader warehouse is a scam. Autotrader does not own a warehouse, and we don't ship cars. Simply put, we don't get involved in transactions between buyers and sellers (see more below). There are many reputable warehousing and shipping services that can make long-distance transactions easy. Just be sure to check out the services proposed on your own. If a seller recommends a warehousing or shipping service, report the seller to us and to law enforcement.

We don't get involved in transactions between buyers and sellers.

Don't respond to any email that appears to come from Autotrader (for example, by displaying our logo) and urges you to complete the sale or purchase of a car listed on our site. Such emails are a sure sign of a scam.

Other signs of fraud are emails that:

  • Claim the security of a transaction is guaranteed by Autotrader.
  • Imply we've verified information about a particular buyer, seller or listing.
  • Describe a "preferred" or "pre-approved" buyer or seller program.

Autotrader doesn't guarantee or endorse transactions, and we don't have preferred or pre-approved buyers or sellers. We'll never encourage you to buy any particular vehicle listed on Autotrader or to sell your vehicle to any particular buyer. If you receive a suspicious email such as the ones described above, report it to us and to law enforcement.

We don't ask you for personal or financial information via email.

Online fraud often begins with a spoof email requesting financial information. These spoof, or scam, emails often impersonate a reputable company such as Autotrader by illegally displaying a company's name, logo or trademark. The intent is to deceive customers into revealing information such as:

  • Username
  • Password
  • Social security number
  • Bank account number
  • Bank routing number
  • Credit card number

The only time we'll ever request your credit card information is when you're in the process of purchasing an ad on our traditional website. We will not take down your listing purchased through our traditional website because you don't provide account information. If you receive an email that asks for the kinds of information listed above, don't respond. Instead, report the email to us and to law enforcement.

We don't inspect vehicles listed on our website for flood damage.

Hurricane Katrina flooded an estimated half a million cars. These damaged vehicles may make it into the used car market all over the U.S. and may be sold to unsuspecting buyers.

Be aware that flood-damaged vehicles may have been:

  • Submerged in water and covered in mud.
  • Contaminated with toxic chemicals.
  • Carrying large amounts of harmful residue.
  • Corroded, causing damage to electronic components.

To avoid purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle:

  • Inspect the car Schedule an inspection with a professional, mechanic who is trained in handling flood-damaged vehicles. Look for mud or mildew under the carpets, in low areas such as the trunk floor, and in enclosed areas such as doors, panels and gas tanks. Inspect headlights and door panels for a water line. Avoid skin contact with fluids, and use protective nitrile-membrane gloves when possible.
  • Verify the title Don't just look for Louisiana titles. Damaged vehicles may have been registered out of state. Also, keep in mind that titles can be altered and transferred to different states, and not all states require that a vehicle's title indicate whether or not it has been salvaged.
  • Check the VIN in the national database The National Insurance Crime Bureau compiled a database of vehicles involved in recent hurricanes. Check the VIN free of charge to help determine if the vehicle was involved in either Hurricane Katrina or Rita. Keep in mind that there may be vehicles affected by the hurricanes that are not included in this database.
  • Obtain a vehicle history report A CARFAX vehicle history report can provide useful information, such as who holds the title, whether the car has been in an accident and if it was ever reported stolen, salvaged or damaged.

If you own a flood-damaged vehicle, contact your insurance company. Your insurance company can work with vendors to determine if your car is worth repairing or if it needs to be declared a total loss.

Beware of fraudulent escrow services and protect yourself with secured payment.

For a fee, an escrow service holds the buyer's payment until the seller has delivered the item purchased. Such a third-party service can protect both parties from fraud. However, scammers often set up fake escrow services. They claim an affiliation with well-known companies like Autotrader and TRUSTe, for example, to create a sense of security. Autotrader does not endorse all escrow services and TRUSTe does not operate an escrow service. Protect yourself by using our preferred provider, Escrow.com for secured payments. Visit Escrow.com

Remember these tips before you agree to use an escrow service:

  • Avoid any service that implies an affiliation or partnership with Autotrader unless it is Escrow.com. You can confirm an escrow service by calling 1-866-Autotrader.
  • Avoid any service that claims to be operated by TRUSTe. TRUSTe doesn't operate an escrow service.
  • Verify an escrow service's legitimacy by checking with state regulators.
  • Research the escrow service
  • Decline the transaction if the other party insists on using an escrow service that you’re not sure about.
  • Use a search engine to open the website in a different browser-don’t click on a link the seller provides
  • Dial the contact number listed
  • Search for the company on the BBB website.

And once you find an escrow service you're comfortable with, be sure you understand:

  • What conditions must be met before the payment is released to the seller.
  • What the escrow service charges.
  • Which party is expected to pay the fee.

If any escrow-related email or website implies an affiliation with us by displaying our logo or by other means (except for our preferred provider, Escrow.com), report it to us and law enforcement. Check our Internet fraud resources section for more advice on escrow services.

Common-Sense Advice for Buyers

Buying a car you find online is a lot like buying a car through a classified ad in the newspaper. In either case, use your best judgment.

Know the car's market value
Be suspicious of a vehicle priced significantly below market value. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Obtain a vehicle history report
A vehicle history report can provide useful information, such as who holds the title to the car and whether the car has been in an accident reported to authorities. You'll also find out whether the car was ever reported stolen, salvaged or damaged.
Inspect the car
Schedule an inspection with a professional mechanic or an inspection service if the car is not in your area. An early inspection can help you identify problems. However, keep in mind that an inspection isn't a warranty and won't guarantee a car is free from defects or that inspectors have identified all existing problems.
Confirm contact information
Before you send payment, verify the seller's street address and phone number- an email address is not enough. ZIP codes, area codes and addresses should match up. Be wary if the seller is located overseas.
Use email wisely
Avoid sending sensitive personal or financial information (such as your social security number, credit card number or checking account number) to a seller via email. Remember that email communications are not secure and can be easily forwarded to others.
Get a detailed receipt
Ask the seller for a receipt that states whether the vehicle is being sold with a warranty or "as is."
Get title to the vehicle
Make sure you know what's required in your state to transfer title to the vehicle you're buying.

Internet Fraud Resources

Visit the sites below to learn more about Internet fraud.

Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
Internet Fraud Preventive Measures
Better Business Bureau (BBB)
Be a Smarter Consumer
Tips to Avoid Online Escrow Fraud
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Practical Tips to Help You Be on Guard Against Internet Fraud
Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC)
Fake Seals and Phony Numbers: How Fraudsters Try to Look Legit
National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB)
Search Database for Vehicles Affected by Recent Hurricanes
Coordinating Committee of Automotive Repair (CCAR)
Handling, Disposal, and Repair of Flooded Vehicles
Department of Motor Vehicles
Contact Your State Department
Obtain Vehicle History
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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Fraud Awareness Tips: Prevent Internet Fraud - Autotrader