How to Protect Yourself Against Online Auto Auction Scams

online car shopping scam

Online fraud in auto auctions cost victims $8 million in 2011 alone. Scam artists use a combination of your desire for a great deal and lack of familiarity with rules in order to accomplish their goal. Here’s how auto auction scams work and how to protect yourself.

The Set-up
Every auto auction scam begins with identification of targets. A nice auto is advertised with an online auction. It is more than simply a nice car in most cases. It is the type of auto that inspires an emotional response, such as longing or nostalgia, for a specific demographic. Scam artists understand the power of emotions to override rational thought.

The auto is almost always priced below the actual value. The difference is in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Potential targets opt into the auction by showing the scammer a willingness to believe in the “too good to be true” price.

The Isolation

A reputable auction site is a poor place to run the actual auto scam. These websites have safeguards in place to protect buyers and the site’s reputation for safety. The rules are rigorously enforced and legal action is taken when needed. Scammers use the following tactics to separate buyers from protection.

  • A “Buy It Now” option is common in auctions. The seller tells buyers this option is available but not functional
  • The seller requests contact outside of the site for some reason
  • The seller for an unknown reason recommends another platform

The isolation of a target is critical for online auto scams. It is usually followed by removal of the original listing. You are welcome to ask for reasons, but do not make the mistake of thinking the given justification has any bearing on reality. A legitimate auto seller has no need to isolate buyers. In fact, they have every reason to not isolate buyers because more buyers mean a higher selling price for their car.

The Take

The final step involves the scammer disappearing with your money. Sophisticated tactics sometimes come into play here. For instance, a mock email impersonates a legitimate entity, such as the original auction website, while asking for personal information. No matter the sophistication of the method, attention to detail is enough to see through the scam.

Avoid the Scam

Auto scams are best beaten by avoiding them altogether. Every step of an auction scam is a chance for you to opt out of being a target.

  • If you feel even slightly gullible when looking at an asking price, forget about it
  • Even if a buyer gives seemingly reasonable justifications for moving the sale elsewhere, do not follow
  • If an email appears legitimate yet asks for your username or other personal information, go out of your way to avoid it
  • Never offer information related to your credit card number, bank account number, or social security number to a seller

Scammers will always be around, but you can put a damper on their efforts. Report suspicious activity to the auction website and/or the FBI’s IC3. There are good deals available online. If you know what to look for, they are as easy to spot as scams.

About the author: Floyd McKnight is an auto-enthusiast who blogs about cars and insurance for If you are the victim of an online auto auction scam, you can check to see what kind of protection your insurance offers.