An estimated 90 percent of people use online resources when hunting for vehicles, according to industry experts. However, with this convenience comes a growing number of scams putting vehicle shoppers and sellers at risk, and greater need to protect yourself against online fraud.
A new Harris Interactive survey sponsored by AutoTrader.com, the Internet’s largest auto classifieds marketplace, finds that two out of three Americans worry about online fraud, and nearly one in three has either already fallen victim to an online scam or knows someone who has.
Despite worries, many surveyed are not well educated on protecting themselves, with only one in eight saying they feel “very confident” they know enough to avoid online fraud.
Sid Kirchheimer, nationally renowned fraud expert, author and the AARP Bulletin’s “Scam Alert” columnist, advises consumers to learn about protecting themselves before researching or making any major purchases online.
“It’s easy for the average consumer to be duped into an online scam, especially when dealing with a high-ticket item like a car,” he says. “People need to know how to recognize common scams and what they can do to easily avoid them and stay safe.”
Kirchheimer offers the following tips:
* Mind your money (and other paper): If shopping for a car online, ensure its existence by getting photocopies of vehicle title and registration, and a vehicle history report from a company like Carfax to note its location and accident and repair history. Never wire money to buy a car, and when selling one online, wait until the bank says the “money has been collected” on deposited checks from the “buyer.” It’s not enough to hear “the check has cleared.” Never provide sensitive information like Social Security, credit card or checking account numbers via email before inspecting the vehicle and striking a deal.
* Watch for scammers and “too good to be true” deals: Beware of ads urging the need for a quick sale at an incredible discount; research realistic prices on similar cars or other big-ticket items to learn general market prices. Be suspicious of “sob story” reasons for quick and cheap sales. Two common scams are the fake soldier departing for Iraq or the recently divorced woman needing cash.
* Know with whom you’re dealing: Many online classified sites like AutoTrader.com only advertise items for sale and don’t get involved in transactions. Other sites help facilitate transactions. If a seller claims to be using a transaction service from a site you know, make sure that site actually offers that service by visiting it yourself.
* Use the phone: Don’t rely only on e-mails when negotiating in cyberspace. Although there’s no guarantee scammers will provide legitimate phone numbers, phone contact can weed out foreign scammers placing bogus online ads.
* Don’t click on emailed links: Scam Web sites often resemble well-known banks, retailers and escrow services. Links in emails to these sites allow scammers to steal your money when you enter payment information. You’re safer accessing a site by visiting its home page than by clicking a link in an email from a stranger.
* Beware of overpayment or complicated payment schemes. Don’t agree to plans where the buyer asks to send a check for more than the sale price, requesting the seller refund the difference. Be suspicious of buyers who propose making payment through friends or agents.
For more on safely shopping online, visit www.autotrader.com/fraudtips.