protecting yourself from used car scams

protecting yourself from used car scams

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Although we’d all like to believe and trust everything we are told, there are people out there who use scams to make a quick buck at the expense of trusting people. Used car scams can come in many forms and it can be hard to work out if a deal is too good to be true. Here, we will look at some of the most common car scams and how you can avoid them.

How do car scams work?

Unfortunately, there is a whole range of used car scams at play, some of which could actually end up endangering people on the road. Some of the most common scams include:


Clocking is the practice of manually decreasing the mileage on a car so it appears to have done fewer miles. Cars with lower mileage often sell for more because it indicates that they are in a better condition than other cars due to their comparably reduced time on the road.
You can avoid this scam by checking the MOT test history of the car on the DVSA website. You can then compare the figure on the MOT with what the seller is stating it is.


A cloned car is one that has been stolen and given the identity of a similar car that has not been DVLA registered. If the car is eventually found, you may have to give it up in order for the theft investigation to begin, leaving you off the road and out of pocket. You can check to see if your car has been stolen by doing a vehicle check.

Virtual Vehicle Scams

A virtual vehicle scam is when a car is bought from a fake shipping website. Once a potential target has expressed interest in the car, that they are told is currently based overseas, they are sent to a fake website where your payment will be processed. The customer is told that the money will be released to the seller upon receipt of the vehicle, however, it is usually the case that your vehicle will not appear.
There are, of course, many more scams to be aware of. Some of these involve a car being stolen then resold or being sold with outstanding finance. It is well worth doing due diligence at every stage of the process in order to avoid being scammed. 

Does the DVLA send texts?

The DVLA has recently warned drivers of a potential scam involving fake text messages. The messages, purporting to be from the DVLA, are asking people to click a link to confirm their payment details. The DVLA will never ask you to confirm details via text message or email, so if you do receive communication of this type, it is fraudulent.

What is dealership fraud?

Dealership fraud refers to any fraudulent behaviour conducted by the dealer any stage of the buying process. This could mean false advertising of a car, inflated pricing, misrepresentation of terms, or any unlawful practices that could leave you out of pocket and with a poorly maintained vehicle.

If you feel you have been scammed by a car dealer, you should take the following steps:

Contact the dealer and tell them you are legally able to reject the sale within 30 days under the Consumer Right Act. If the car is of poor quality or is unroadworthy, you are well within your rights to ask for a replacement or a full refund which the dealer is obligated to provide. (After the 30-day limit, you will be obliged to accept a replacement or full repair of the vehicle. The dealer is also allowed to deduct money from the refund price for fair use of the car after the 30 day period.
Speak to your credit or finance provider and inform them of your dispute with the seller. If you bought the car on hire purchase, you can reject it under common-law. Contact your provider and inform them that you are rejecting the car. 
If you still do not receive adequate recompense from the seller, you should take your complaint to the Motor Ombudsman who will extend the issue to a third party to be resolved. The result of this investigation may lead to court proceedings so be sure that the dispute cannot be handled privately between yourself and the dealer.

How do I report a car scammer?

As mentioned above, the Motor Ombudsman is the body put in place to handle disputes that arise in the automotive industry. It is a fully impartial body that focuses entirely on this specific sector, therefore being in a prime position to help resolve scam-related issues. 

They have a Vehicle Sales Code which details best practices for dealerships including “transparent wording in adverts and pricing, vehicle provenance checks, test drives, accurate advice on warranty and finance products” among others.

You can search for accredited garages on the Motor Ombudsman website, which should help you approach a trusted dealer without fearing you will be scammed.

How can I avoid getting scammed for a car?

The main way to avoid being scammed is to have your wits about you and do your research. Unfortunately, scammers are well-versed in zeroing in on people they consider to be easy targets, so make sure you are not presenting yourself as such. This can be as simple as showcasing the knowledge of the vehicle you wish to buy, conducting thorough checks on the reputation of the dealer themselves, or by paying for a vehicle check to ensure it has a clean history in terms of repairs and finance.

There are many facets to consider, however, the best way to mitigate the risks is by having all your ducks in a row before you step onto the forecourt or enter your payment details. Be mindful and follow your gut - if it doesn’t feel right or you don’t trust the seller’s excuses, walk away.

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data analysis from 19th Feb '24 to 19th May '24