Car Deal Canada

Car Buying Scams

Car Buying Scams

Car buying scams are on the rise in Canada. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reports that complaints about vehicle-related scams have increased by over 250% since the start of the pandemic. With more people shopping for vehicles online, scammers have found new opportunities to take advantage of unsuspecting buyers. An estimated 15,000 Canadians fall victim to fraudulent vehicle sales each year, losing millions of dollars collectively.


This surge in car buying scams correlates directly with the shift to online vehicle shopping. Nearly 80% of car buyers now use the internet during their search process, looking at classified ads and dealer websites. This provides fertile ground for scammers to set up fake listings and build trust with buyers before defrauding them. Canadian authorities have warned about specific scams involving wire transfers, fake shipping fees, and vehicles advertised well below market value.


This article will outline the most common car buying scams currently circulating and provide tips on how to protect yourself when purchasing a vehicle online. Being aware of the tactics scammers use and approaching transactions with healthy skepticism is key to avoiding being taken advantage of. Protect yourself and your hard-earned money by learning to recognize the red flags of a fraudulent vehicle sale.

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What are Car Buying Scams?

Car buying scams refer to deceptive schemes meant to trick consumers during the process of purchasing a vehicle. Scammers use clever tactics to defraud unsuspecting car shoppers out of money, steal personal information, or sell unsafe vehicles under false pretenses.

Some major types of car buying scams include:

 

  • Fraudulent listings – Fake ads using copied images or listing vehicles that don’t exist
  • “Too good to be true” pricing – Unrealistically low prices to attract buyers
  • Third party scams – Pretending to assist with shipping or transportation
  • Title washing – Manipulating records to hide a vehicle’s history
  • Identity theft – Stealing personal information for fraudulent purposes
  • Odometer rollbacks – Falsely lowering a vehicle’s mileage
  • Curbstoning – Unlicensed sellers posing as private parties

 

These scams all aim to trick shoppers in different ways during the buying process. Being aware of the major techniques scammers use is the first step in protecting yourself.

 

Too Good to be True Pricing

One of the most common car buying scams involves vehicles listed well below market value. Scammers will advertise vehicles at prices that seem too good to be true, often thousands below the vehicle’s actual value. This bait pricing is designed to grab attention and attract unsuspecting buyers.

The psychology behind the too good to be true pricing scam takes advantage of the fact that humans have a hard time resisting a deal. When we see something offered at an unbelievably low price, it triggers an emotional reaction and a fear of missing out. We worry that if we don’t act fast, someone else will buy the car. This clouds rational thinking and makes it harder to spot the red flags.

Once a potential victim expresses interest in the below-market priced vehicle, the scammer will come up with elaborate stories and excuses for why an in-person showing or test drive isn’t possible right away. They work to build trust and string the victim along before eventually asking for an upfront payment to reserve the car or cover shipping. At that point, the scammer disappears with the money and the victim never sees the car.

 

Third Party Scams

Third party scams are another common tactic used by scammers trying to take advantage of eager car buyers. In this scam, the supposed seller will claim they have a third party assisting with the sale, such as an agent or escrow service responsible for transporting the vehicle.

After expressing interest in the car, the scammer will say you need to pay this third party for transportation or shipping fees before taking possession of the vehicle. They want money upfront before any car changes hands.

Often these third parties are completely fictional. The scammer simply pockets the money without ever providing a car. Even if the third party is real, it’s likely they have no actual involvement or responsibility in the sale. The scammer uses the illusion of a third party to try to appear more legitimate.

Some red flags of a third party scam include:

 

  • Asking for payment to an individual or unofficial business rather than an established shipping or transportation company.
  • Not allowing pickup in person and requiring shipping.
  • Vague details about the third party like no website or contact info.
  • Requests for strange forms of payment like wire transfers, gift cards or cryptocurrency.

 

As soon as a supposed third party asks for upfront payment before you can see or take possession of a vehicle, it should raise suspicions. Only work with established, verifiable companies, and never pay a stranger for a car sight unseen.

 

Fraudulent Advertisements

One common car buying scam involves fraudulent advertisements posted by scammers. These scammers will copy images and details from legitimate vehicle sale listings found on sites like Autotrader, Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. They recreate the ads with minor details changed, often lowering the price substantially below market value.

When unsuspecting buyers express interest in these fake ads, the scammers respond by claiming the vehicle in the ad has already been sold. However, they just happen to have another very similar vehicle available for sale at an even better price if the buyer acts fast.

This switches the focus to a different vehicle, often completely fabricated by the scammer. They may use additional stolen images that match the details provided or send no photos at all. The fake listings and vehicles don’t actually exist, allowing the scammers to manipulate details and fabricate reasons why an in-person showing or test drive isn’t possible.

These scammers are focused on getting buyers emotionally invested in a dream car at an unbelievable price. This clouds judgement and leads victims to ignore red flags. Before sending any money, it’s essential to confirm vehicles are legitimate and see them in person whenever possible.

 

Title Washing

Title washing is a sneaky scam that involves manipulating a vehicle’s title to hide any past problems or issues. Scammers will take steps to “wash” away any negative history from a car’s title documents.

They accomplish this by moving the vehicle between multiple states and exploiting inconsistencies in title record keeping. For example, a car may originally be titled in State A. The scammer then moves the car to State B and applies for a new title, failing to disclose that the car was previously totaled in an accident in State A. Since State B has no record of the accident, they issue a clean title. The scammer can then sell the car in State B without buyers being aware of the prior accident history.

By title washing, scammers are able to hide things like total loss history, salvage brands, odometer rollbacks, and flood damage history. This allows them to sell vehicles for much more than they are worth by making it seem like they have no issues.

These washed titles can be very difficult for buyers to detect. That’s why it’s so important to carefully research a vehicle’s history through services like Carfax. Paying for a title history report can protect against accidentally buying a washed title vehicle.

 

See Vehicles in Person

The best way to avoid most online car buying scams is to see vehicles in person before purchasing. Many scammers will make excuses for why an in-person showing isn’t possible. They may claim the car is located out-of-state or country. Or they may say they are unavailable to meet due to military service, medical issues, or other reasons. However, not being able to see a vehicle should be an immediate red flag.

If buying locally, be extremely suspicious of any seller who refuses to meet or allow a test drive. And if looking at vehicles long distance, try to arrange for a third party inspection. Some services will conduct inspections for a fee to validate the car’s condition. If neither of those options is possible, you may want to reconsider the purchase, as it likely involves some type of scam.

Seeing a vehicle in person allows you to assess its true condition, specifications and history. Scammers can easily falsify details or post fake photos of vehicles online. But seeing a car or truck firsthand makes it much harder to disguise problems or inaccuracies. Test driving also helps you identify issues not apparent through a visual inspection. Protect yourself by insisting on an in-person showing before money changes hands.

 

Meet at Safe Locations

When buying a used car from a private seller, it’s important to meet in a protected, public place if possible. Some police stations provide designated safe exchange zones specifically for online purchases and transactions. These zones are monitored and provide a safe environment to view the vehicle, test drive it, exchange money, and sign paperwork. Safe exchange zones help avoid threats, theft, or unsafe situations that could arise when meeting strangers to complete a transaction. If your local police department doesn’t offer an official safe exchange zone, you can still take precautions by meeting during daylight hours in a busy area like a grocery store or coffee shop parking lot. Avoid meeting at the seller’s home or isolated areas. Bring along a friend or family member too. Meeting the seller in a safe public place gives you peace of mind that the car buying process will be secure.

 

Research Sellers

One of the best ways to avoid being scammed when buying a car online is to thoroughly research the seller. Here are some tips for researching seller reputation:

 

Search Online Reviews

Look for online reviews of the seller on platforms like Google, Facebook, Yelp, etc. See what other customers have said about their experience purchasing from this seller. Beware of sellers with no reviews or a significant number of negative reviews mentioning issues like misrepresented vehicles, requests for upfront payment, failure to deliver the vehicle, etc.

 

Search Seller Name With Keywords

Do a broader online search of the seller’s name along with keywords like “scam,” “review,” “complaint,” etc. This can uncover stories from past buyers who were scammed by this person. You may find warnings about the seller on scam reporting sites.

 

Ask for References

A reputable seller should be willing to provide references of previous satisfied customers you can contact. Be wary if they hesitate or refuse to provide references.

 

Search Contact Information

Copy and paste the seller’s phone number, email or other contact details into a search engine to see if it links back to any scam reports or warnings. Fraudulent sellers may use the same details repeatedly.

 

Verify Company Details

If purchasing from a dealership, verify they are an actual registered business by contacting the Secretary of State office in that state. Fake dealerships may list false registration numbers.

 

Confirm Vehicle Details

One of the best ways to avoid being scammed is to thoroughly research the vehicle you are interested in purchasing using the VIN number and vehicle history reports. The VIN number is like a car’s fingerprint and can provide a wealth of information about that specific vehicle.

Run the VIN number through services like Carfax or AutoCheck to get a comprehensive vehicle history report. These paid services will provide details on things like:

 

  • Accident history – Have there been any reported accidents or damage?
  • Title history – Has the title been washed or manipulated?
  • Ownership history – How many previous owners has the car had?
  • Mileage records – Does the mileage align with the vehicle’s age?
  • Maintenance records – Have manufacturer recommended services been performed?
  • Flood damage – Has the car ever been in a flood?

 

Vehicle history reports from reputable sources like Carfax and AutoCheck can help you spot inconsistencies, title washing, odometer rollbacks, and damage history. This protects you from buying a vehicle that is not as advertised.

In addition to VIN checks, you can confirm basic vehicle details through resources like the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheck tool. This can validate information provided by the seller including make, model, year, and other specifics.

Taking the time to thoroughly validate the VIN number and vehicle history shows sellers you have done your homework and helps avoid becoming the victim of a car buying scam.

 

Use Secure Payments

When purchasing a vehicle online, it’s important to only use secure payment methods that offer fraud protection. Some payment types you’ll want to avoid due to the high risk of scams include:

 

  • Wire transfers – Wire transfers are risky since they allow anonymous recipients to receive money without providing their identity. Once sent, wire transfers can’t be reversed.
  • Cash – Paying cash is risky since there’s no paper trail or fraud protection. Cash transactions are final.
  • Cryptocurrency – Crypto payments can’t be traced or reversed, making this payment method attractive to scammers.
  • Gift cards – Scammers often request unusual payment methods like gift cards. These transactions can’t be undone.

 

Protect yourself by using secure, reversible payment methods offering fraud protection. Good options include credit cards, services like PayPal, or escrow services that hold your money until you have the vehicle.

 

Trust Your Instincts

One of the best defenses against car buying scams is listening to your gut. If something seems questionable or too good to be true, trust your instincts. Scammers are experts at pushing emotional buttons and pressuring buyers into making rushed decisions.

Remember that legitimate sellers have nothing to hide. They will welcome your questions and give you time to evaluate the vehicle thoroughly. High-pressure sales tactics are a red flag. If you feel unsure or uncomfortable at any point, move on to a more trustworthy seller.

Watch for scammer tricks like limited availability, one-day only pricing, or claims that another buyer is interested. This false urgency is meant to get you to hand over money before thoroughly vetting the sale. Slow down and give yourself time to analyze the situation objectively.

Scams also flourish when buyers are overly eager for a great deal. Temper your excitement with caution. An extremely low price on an in-demand vehicle is usually bait for a scam. Let logic balance your emotions so you don’t get taken advantage of.

Finally, discuss the sale with someone you trust to get another perspective. They may spot suspicious details you overlooked. Having a support system helps you make wise choices if something seems “off.” Never let a smooth-talking scammer override your best judgment.

In the world of online car buying, knowledge truly is power. Arm yourself by learning to recognize warning signs. But your most important defense is trusting your gut. If a deal seems questionable, move on and keep looking for quality vehicles from reputable sellers.

 

Protect Yourself

There are several steps you can take to protect yourself from car buying scams:

 

  • Never wire money or use prepaid debit cards for payment. Scammers often insist on these irreversible payment methods but they leave you no recourse if the vehicle doesn’t exist or isn’t as advertised.
  • Arrange to meet sellers and see the vehicle in person before paying anything. This allows you to inspect the car thoroughly and avoid many scams.
  • Conduct the transaction at a safe location like a police station parking lot. Many police departments allow their lots to be used for online sale meetups.
  • Do not provide personal information like your driver’s license or credit card information until you are ready to complete the purchase in person.
  • Research the seller’s name online along with keywords like “complaint” or “scam” to uncover negative experiences from past buyers.
  • Validate details like VIN numbers, vehicle history and ownership records through paid services before purchase.
  • Trust your instincts – if something seems questionable or too good to be true, walk away.

 

Taking precautions helps avoid sending money to scammers. Protect yourself by only using secure payment methods and verifying all details in person before purchase.

 

Signs of a Scam

When shopping for a used vehicle, watch for these common red flags that may indicate a scam:

 

  • Pressure to complete the transaction quickly before getting a chance to thoroughly vet the car and seller.
  • Refusal to meet in person or let you test drive before paying.
  • Prices listed well below market value with no reasonable explanation.
  • Sellers using an anonymous communication method like temporary phone numbers or email addresses.
  • Requests to pay using non-reversible payment methods like wire transfers, gift cards, or cryptocurrency.
  • Third parties inserted into the transaction asking for fees to handle shipping, escrow services, etc.
  • Lack of detailed information about the vehicle’s history and condition.
  • Excuses why the vehicle can’t be inspected by a mechanic before purchase.
  • Titles from states with known title washing issues or other paperwork inconsistencies.
  • Vehicles advertised with stock or recycled photos instead of actual images.

 

Pay attention if a seller seems evasive, inconsistent, or raises multiple red flags. Don’t ignore your instincts – if something seems questionable, it likely is. Slow down and walk away instead of being rushed into a purchase. Protect yourself by taking the time to thoroughly validate both the vehicle and the seller.

 

Report Scams

If you encounter a suspected car buying scam, it’s important to report it to help prevent others from being victimized. Here are some tips on reporting car scams:

Contact the Federal Trade Commission – The FTC takes complaints about fraud, scams and unfair practices related to buying and selling cars. File a complaint with the FTC by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP or submitting an online report at ftc.gov.

Notify State Authorities – Your state attorney general’s office and department of motor vehicles may also want to know about car scams occurring locally. Find contact information for your state authorities to file a complaint.

Inform the Website or Platform – If you came across a scam on a website like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or eBay Motors, notify the platform so they can take down the fraudulent listing and seller. This helps stop the scam from spreading further.

Contact Local Law Enforcement – Contact the police department in the area where the scam took place. Provide them with copies of emails, screenshots, seller contact information and details of any financial transactions.

Leave Online Reviews – Post honest reviews about any person or dealership involved in a car buying scam to warn future buyers. Sites like Better Business Bureau, Yelp and Google Reviews help spread awareness.

By taking a few minutes to report car scams and fraudulent sellers, you can prevent other eager car shoppers from being taken advantage of.

 

Conclusion

Car buying scams are common, but being aware of them and taking steps to protect yourself can help you avoid becoming a victim. Recognizing some of the most common scams like too good to be true pricing, third party scams, fraudulent ads, and title washing puts you on alert. Taking precautions such as seeing vehicles in person, researching sellers, validating details, using secure payments, and trusting your instincts reduces your chances of being defrauded.

It’s important to be vigilant when buying a vehicle, especially online. Look for warning signs of a scam and don’t ignore your gut feeling if something seems off. Being proactive about your safety ensures the car buying process focuses on finding your perfect car, not falling for a scam. With awareness and caution, you can feel confident finding your next vehicle while avoiding the scammers.

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Questions About Car Buying Scams

Some common car buying scams in Canada include curbsiding, where an unlicensed seller poses as a private seller; odometer fraud, where sellers roll back the odometer to show less mileage; identity theft; fake vehicle histories or inspection reports; misrepresenting accident damage; and failing to disclose liens or loans still owing on the vehicle. Always request documentation like used vehicle information packages and lien searches to protect yourself. Meet sellers at their home address so you can ID them, don’t wire funds without seeing the car, and thoroughly inspect vehicles yourself before purchase.

Yes, extremely low prices on used vehicles advertised online are almost always scams in Canada. This “too good to be true” price is meant to hook unsuspecting buyers. The seller may not even have possession of that car, or the car may not exist at all. Scammers often ask you to send money before seeing the car, and will come up with excuses why you can’t see it in person first. Never send money to someone advertising vehicles online without seeing the car and verifying ownership. Meet in person, at their address, to view before purchasing.



Curbsiding refers to an individual posing as a private seller when they are actually an unlicensed dealer selling multiple used cars for profit, without licensing, insurance or oversight. Curbsiders may use online ads, rental lots, or random parking spots to sell cars quickly. Ask for ID and verify the seller’s address when meeting, review vehicle history, and pay only after independent inspection. Licensed dealers must register the sale and pay taxes, but curbsiders often neglect transfers to avoid fees. Demand the Used Vehicle Information Package.

Unfortunately odometer rollbacks do occur in Canada’s used car market. Scammers wound back the mileage to increase resale value. Warning signs include mileage inconsistent with wear and tear, service records showing higher past mileage, not having the Used Vehicle Information Package, or the seller avoiding allowing a test drive. Carefully note mileage, check Carproof reports, and bring someone knowledgeable to view the car with you. Confirm odo accuracy as best as possible before purchase.

Stolen cars and VIN cloning scams do happen in Canada. Have a mechanic check that the VIN plates haven’t been tampered with or replaced. Use Carproof or AutoCheck vehicle history reports to check accident, border crossing, and theft records. Check stolen car databases like the Canadian Police Information Centre. Ensure the seller has clear title, registration, and valid ID confirming their identity. Meet at their residence and don’t buy from an empty lot or random meeting point.



To avoid scams, only buy used vehicles in Canada from sellers who show multiple current pieces of ID that confirm their identity and residence address. This should include their Canadian driver’s license showing current home address and photo, along with a secondary piece of current photo ID. Reputable sellers will also provide their vehicle registration paper confirming they properly own that car. Beware of sellers who won’t show ID, use aliases, meet elsewhere, or seem evasive.

Yes, some supposed private sellers will promise financing from “third-party” lenders and ask you to submit personal information or even make down payments before approving fraudulent loans. They may also ask you to pay in unusual ways like prepaid credit cards, money orders, third-party escrow sites, or wire transfers. Only use secure payment options once you view the car and confirm its ownership. Get approved for your own financing from a reputable source like your bank before starting to shop.



Curbstoning refers to an unlicensed seller posing as a private individual to sell multiple used cars for profit using public parking lots or busy roads to display vehicles. This practice is illegal in many Canadian provinces as these sellers lack licensing, oversight and insurance. Curbstoners also don’t register sales or provide legal paperwork. Ask for ID and home address, review history reports, inspect cars thoroughly before purchase, and make sure all paperwork like vehicle registration and title certificate is legitimate.

When test driving any used car in Canada, keep an eye out for potential signs of accident damage repairs, flood damage, mechanical issues, and odometer tampering. Warning signs include new paint covering older body panels, water stains under carpets, rust inside doors or trunk, check engine lights illuminated, mildew smells from water damage, and excessive wear inconsistent with mileage. Drive at highway speeds, test all functions, and have a trusted mechanic perform an pre-purchase inspection before buying.



While vehicle history reports from trusted providers help identify issues in a used car’s past, no report is 100% comprehensive. Curbsiders know how to “clean” titles by registering cars in different provinces after accidents, thefts or flood damage events. Minor accidents also often go unreported. Inspect cars thoroughly yourself for repairs, flood damage and mechanical problems. Compare mileage and wear and tear levels during test drives as well. Use history reports as helpful guides but don’t rely on them fully to avoid being scammed.

VIN cloning scams involve copying and manipulating the unique vehicle identification number from a clean, undamaged vehicle and using it to “re-tag” a damaged or stolen car. Scammers then falsify documents to sell the tampered car, hiding its true history and identity. Carefully inspect VIN plates on the car itself to ensure they haven’t been replaced or altered. Cross reference VINs among all ownership documentation and vehicle history reports. If you discover an illegally cloned VIN you could lose the car.

The best protection when buying a used car in Canada is having the vehicle thoroughly inspected first by a trusted mechanic, body shop, or appraiser. They can identify shoddy collision repairs, replaced panels, compromised structural components, water damage evidence, corrosion, and other issues proving accident or flood history that reports or descriptions may not reveal. Hidden damages can lead to serious mechanical and safety issues down the road, so professional inspection prior to purchase is highly recommended.

Title washing refers to scammers manipulating a vehicle’s history by obtaining new titles in different provinces after accidents, flood damage events, or thefts to “wash” away problems. Ask sellers if the car originated in another province and check Carproof for unexplained registration changes. Carefully cross reference VINs among all paperwork. Inspect cars thoroughly test driving and use trusted mechanics. Reports can miss issues when titles move between provinces, so your own due diligence is key. Don’t rely solely on vehicle histories or descriptions.

Unfortunately, yes – criminals can forge convincing vehicle ownership paperwork in Canada. Fake documents like registration and title certificates are harder to detect. That’s why it’s critical you only meet sellers at their residence to confirm their identity before buying, rather than in a random parking lot. Cross check VIN numbers among all documentation and ID sellers in person by inspecting multiple pieces of current, photo government ID. Also have a mechanic thoroughly inspect the car for any signs of VIN tag tampering just in case.

A curbstoner refers to an individual posing as a private seller but actually operating essentially an unlicensed, illegal used car lot for profit, without licensing, insurance, oversight or registration of sales. Curbstoners “sell cars on the curb” from random parking lots, busy streets or vacant fields, advertising online to lure in unsuspecting buyers. They focus on selling cars quickly. Most Canadian provinces have banned curbstoning. Don’t buy from curbstoners as you have little legal recourse. Only buy from sellers at their private residence after ID verification.

When buying a used private vehicle in Canada, detecting odometer tampering requires diligence. Warning signs include mileage inconsistent with wear and tear levels on interior and exterior components like seats, steering wheels, and paint. Carefully note mileage and check for consistency against all service records and history documentation provided. Mechanics can examine odometers for signs of physical tampering. Test drive the vehicle on highways to gauge performance. And have a trusted mechanic thoroughly inspect the car before finalizing a purchase.



When purchasing a used private passenger vehicle in Canada, ensure the seller provides the Used Vehicle Information Package including the bill of sale, vehicle registration, title certificate, lien search showing any outstanding loans, accident and claims history report, valid safety standards certificate from an accredited mechanic, emission test results, and at least one piece of current government-issued seller ID. Review all documentation closely to spot any irregularities before paying or signing anything.

Unfortunately, yes – written-off, crashed, flooded or salvage auction cars can be bought cheaply, cosmetically repaired to look flawless, then resold privately in Canada with clean paperwork that hides their true condition. Thoroughly test drive and independently inspect vehicles before purchase, looking for any signs of repairs or reconditioning. And have complete paperwork like Used Vehicle Information Packages reviewed by knowledgeable experts to spot any red flags. Reports and appearances can be deceiving – always inspect and authenticate.

If you confirm a used vehicle purchased in Canada has serious undisclosed issues like previous write-offs, flood damage or VIN cloning, immediately stop driving it and notify police to report VIN fraud if applicable. Contact Canada’s Competition Bureau regarding misrepresentation by sellers under the Competition Act or your provincial consumer protection office to file civil claims. Consult a legal professional regarding options to recover losses through courts or regulatory bodies. Unfortunately reversing these illegal sales is difficult but reporting them helps protect other buyers.

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