Pandemic car scams on the rise—how to stay safe

Here at TRED, we’ve noticed that attempts at fraudulent activity have been exceptionally high lately. Maybe it’s desperation, as so many people’s economic situation has become dire in a very short amount of time. Perhaps it’s simple opportunism—the knowledge that all of the processes and systems in place are disrupted, cars are scarce and expensive, and most DMVs are still open only limited hours. Or maybe the fraudsters have more time on their hands to sit in front of a computer and cast a wide net to snare hapless buyers and sellers. Whatever the reason, our team has been busy handling (and thwarting) a much higher volume of would-be scammers than usual.

Check mate

One of the primary areas where we’re seeing a huge increase in fraud attempts is people trying to pay for cars with phony checks. A word of advice: Don’t accept a check for a car. Unless you already know the buyer very well, do not take a check—even a cashier’s check—from them. Because printer technology is amazing, and fraudsters are enterprising; it’s possible for them to create a phony check that’s indistinguishable from a real one. (Imagine what they could accomplish if they applied those skills to aboveboard pursuits!)

Counterfeit check complaints have doubled in the last five years.

Another thing to keep in mind is that with so many people working from home, and restrictions on going out in most areas, there are a lot of cars sitting parked for weeks at a time. So a lot of cars are easily available for thieves to steal, with a good chance that they won’t be missed or reported stolen for several days to even weeks. That means a higher than normal percentage of used cars for sale right now are likely to be stolen.

If you’re buying a car from outside your area and having it shipped, it’s important to make sure you know who you’re dealing with. In the last couple of months a number of would-be car buyers have lost thousands of dollars after wiring money to dealers and car transporters who didn’t actually exist, to buy cars that also didn’t actually exist. 

No matter how pretty the car… take your time and do your diligence.

If it sounds too good to be true…

It can be tempting to move a little too quickly when a desirable car seems to be an extremely good deal, but…  if it’s an improbably good deal, that’s a red flag and a reason to be extra skeptical. If you do choose to proceed, it’s important to do thorough diligence. Make sure that if the person you’re dealing with claims to be a dealer, that you look them up (most states have a  DMV or similar website where you can confirm that they have a current license in good standing.) Also remember that you need to confirm that the person you’re speaking with is actually associated with the dealer whose license you confirmed. It’s best to call the number from the state’s registry to make sure you can reach your contact that way, to confirm they’re actually affiliated with the dealership.

If you’re buying a car at a distance from a person who is not a dealer, you’re taking significant risk. In that case, the only way to protect yourself completely is to bring in your own third party to act on your behalf. A local broker can do that, or an online dealer that operates in multiple states, like TRED, are good options.

So if you’re thinking of selling your car, or buying a used car anytime soon, please consider that there are substantially higher risks of being scammed right now than usual. (And that’s saying a lot!)

Many dealerships are currently closed or only open limited hours, but TRED has always been an online dealership—so keeping buyers and sellers safe, along with providing an easy and convenient transaction is what we do best. In fact, it’s the entire purpose of our company. We make sure that we—and you—know who you’re dealing with, so you don’t have to worry about your safety or about fraud. Then we handle the payment and the title transfer securely, and the whole transaction is guaranteed. We’re also protecting buyers and sellers in other ways during the pandemic, by offering contact-free car buying and selling, and social distancing-compliant test drives.

If you have questions, give us a call anytime—we’d love to help!

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