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 and law enforcement right away.

Step 1: If you are the victim of a scam, please email us 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.).
Step 3: File a complaint with the Internet Fraud Complaint Center to inform federal and state law enforcement agencies. We strongly recommend that you report fraud to local law enforcement as well.

AutoTrader.com 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.

Beware of fraudulent escrow services and protect yourself with Escrow.com

Remember these tips before you agree to use an escrow service
Protect yourself by using Escrow.com, our preferred provider for secured payments

Before you buy or sell

Common-Sense Advice for Sellers
Common-Sense Advice for Buyers

Important resources

Internet fraud resources

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

AutoTrader.com is an online vehicle listing service that connects car buyers with sellers. We are not car dealers. Any listing information about a particular car comes directly from the seller-not 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.

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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.com warehouse is a scam. AutoTrader.com doesn't 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 bogus warehousing or shipping service, report the seller to us and to law enforcement.

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

Don't respond to any email that appears to come from AutoTrader.com (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.com.
  • Imply we've verified information about a particular buyer, seller or listing.
  • Describe a "preferred" or "pre-approved" buyer or seller program.

AutoTrader.com 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.com 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.

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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.com 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 website. We will not take down your listing 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.

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We don't require payment to enter a sweepstakes.

AutoTrader.com may offer promotional contests from time to time, but we'll never require payment to enter a sweepstakes or to claim a prize.

If you receive an email that claims we're holding a promotional contest or sweepstakes:

  • Check our website or call Customer Service at 1-866-AUTOTRADER(1-866-288-6872) Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-8 p.m; Sat. 9 a.m.-7 p.m. ET  for accurate information. If you don't get confirmation from us that we're holding a contest, don't participate.
  • Don't click any links embedded in email messages. A link may look correct, but the code behind it could take you to a different website. Copy and paste a link into your browser's address bar.

If you think you've received a fraudulent email involving a promotional contest, report the email to us and to law enforcement.

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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
An AutoCheck or 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.

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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.com and TRUSTe, for example, to create a sense of security. AutoTrader.com 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.

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

  • Avoid any service that implies an affiliation or partnership with AutoTrader.com 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.

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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.

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Common-Sense Advice for Sellers

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

Confirm contact information
Be particularly wary of buyers willing to purchase your car sight-unseen, especially buyers located overseas. Always verify the buyer's street address and phone number.
Secure payment first
Do not transfer the title until you have payment in hand at the agreed upon price.
Verify that a certified check is genuine
Before you deposit a certified check, verify authenticity with the issuing bank-not just your bank. Make sure the account contains sufficient funds and the issuing bank guarantees payment on the check. It may take a week or more for the check to clear. It hasn't cleared just because your bank has accepted it and credited your account.
Beware of overpayment or other complicated payment schemes
Don't agree to any plan where the buyer asks to send a check for more than the sale price and requests that the seller refund the difference. And be suspicious of any buyer who proposes making payment through a friend or agent of the buyer.

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Internet Fraud Resources

Visit the sites below to learn more about Internet fraud.

Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC)
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
California Department of Corporations
Top 10 Tips to Avoid Online Escrow Fraud
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

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