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Common Online Car Sale Scams in Australia (and How to Avoid Them)

Buying a used car is an exciting journey. Maybe it’s your first car ever, or maybe you’re looking for an upgrade. In any case, you have a lot to be excited about.

While you’ll be required to put in some footwork to buy your used car, you can save yourself a lot of time and effort in making your decision through the use of online car marketplaces such as Gumtree, Craigslist, Carsales and more.

Gone are the days of having to do your car buying in person. With so many different online car marketplaces to choose from you could be forgiven for not even knowing where to start! They all have their own distinguishing features, but whichever you use to buy your used car you need to be on the lookout for car sale scams.

Unfortunately, the relative anonymity that can be found on these platforms means that dishonest Australians are sometimes able to use them to scam car buyers out of their hard-earned cash.

So how can you avoid common car sale scams? Find out below! We’ll discuss some common online car scams, as well as what you need to look out for.


Common Online Car Sale Scams in Australia


Unfortunately, there are a number of common car sale scams that can be found on online platforms. These include scams on Gumtree, Facebook, eBay and other private platforms such as Carsales, Carsguide and more.

They often include dishonest representations of the car you’re paying for, an insecure method of payment and a seller that is not forthcoming with personal information.


Car Sale Scam 1: Unconventional Payment Methods

For the most part, the exchange of money is one of the more critical parts of the used car buying process. It’s the time in which you as a buyer are at your most vulnerable!

Online scammers often use an unconventional payment method to try and separate you from your cash. They may insist that you pay a deposit through an unfamiliar app or bank transfer, only to disappear without much of a trace. It’s often best for you to stick to what you know. Be forceful but fair, and don’t allow the seller to enforce their will over you! At the end of the day, it’s your money and it should be your choice how you hand it over.

We recommend following the payment guidelines of the platform that you are using. Some platforms such as eBay have payment methods built into their platform, which may be able to protect you from fraudulent dealings.

For private sales, paying through PayPal or with cash are popular choices. Read our full breakdown on payment methods here for more information about your options.



Car Sale Scam 2: Car Prices Far Below Average

While many of us would like to assume that we’ve actually stumbled onto a bargain, a suspiciously low price for a car that should be priced higher may be a sign of some shady dealings. We should preface this by saying that a low price is not a tell-tale sign that you’re going to be scammed! However, it does pay to be cynical with a significant investment such as a car.

Low prices attract the highest number of potential buyers, and is a common tactic used by people on the lookout for buyers to try and dupe. If the car you’re looking at is well below the price you have seen listed elsewhere, ask yourself why this may be the case. If the car has no underlying issues, damage, or anything else which would be pulling the price down, it may be too good to be true.


Car Sale Scam 3: Rushed Transaction

By rushing a transaction, a car sale scammer is attempting to force you into making a decision quickly and without proper consideration. A common story that they will fabricate is that they need to sell their car quickly before being deployed overseas as part of the military, or that they need the cash desperately. This, combined with a cheap price, can make for a very enticing offer!

Do not allow yourself to be convinced because of a short timeline! Do your due diligence and don’t give in to the seller’s demands unless you have taken the necessary steps to verify the sale as legitimate.


Car Sale Scam 4: Not Allowing Proper Inspection 

If your seller refuses you the opportunity to inspect the condition of the car for any reason, this should be considered a major red flag. We would never recommend buying a car unseen, as this can lead to significant issues with the car down the track (if the car even exists).

The scammers may do this by insisting that the car is located in another state or country and is unable to be seen. They can be very creative in coming up with these excuses, so be vigilant.

Allowing an independent mechanic to examine the car can be instrumental in the success of your car buying process. They’ll be able to tell you whether it has any significant issues that will need to be addressed and give recommendations into whether this purchase is a good idea.


Car Sale Scam 5: Suspiciously Low Odometer Reading

This one is slightly less common, and is less of a car sale scam and more of a dishonest way of selling a car for more than it is actually worth. Mechanically minded scammers may alter the odometer reading on the dash of the car, to give car buyers the impression that the car has done significantly less driving than it actually has.

A general rule which you may have heard is that cars will drive anywhere between 15,000 and 20,000km yearly. Divide the number of kilometres with the years it’s been in use to see if this matches up. Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule as everyone uses their car differently. However, it can be a great way to gain a rough understanding of a ‘normal’ amount.

If you have any suspicions about the car’s odometer reading, ask the mechanic that you ask to inspect the car of their opinion. They can give you an impression of roughly how many kilometres they think the car has done, based on the condition and wear and tear they see.




Car Sale Scam 6: Text or Email-Only Sellers

Car sellers that aren’t forthcoming with information about themselves are the ones that need to be avoided. If your potential seller only communicates through text or email, it is likely that they are doing their best to stay relatively anonymous.

One way to test the legitimacy of a seller is to call the number they are texting you from. If they refuse to answer, the line doesn’t work or anything else happens to cause you to feel uncertain, exercise caution.


Car Sale Scam 7: Meeting in Public Places

If your seller is only offering up public meeting places for you to inspect the car, you should ask yourself what their motivation for this might be. Meeting in a public place may mean that they are attempting to hide their identity from you, by not allowing you to attach them to a place of residence.

Take this with a pinch of salt, however, as some people are uncomfortable inviting strangers to their home, which is completely understandable. Assuming that a potential deal is a dodgy one based on this alone would be wrong. Pair this with any of the other strange behaviours noted in this article and your hunch may well be correct.


Tips for Avoiding Online Car Sale Scams



Avoiding online scams when buying a car requires you to exercise a bit of caution. As with any sizable investment, you’re going to want to put in some groundwork prior to any exchange of cash. In order to avoid being taken advantage of, there are a number of things that you can do.


  1. Take your time:

Don’t allow yourself to feel pressured to make a quick transaction. You need to invest time into your decision if you want to ensure that your new car is perfect for you.


  1. Follow professional advice:

Listen to the mechanic you’ve asked to look at the car, and follow the guidelines laid out by the online platform you decide to buy with. They all have their own preferred ways of making payments and transferring ownership, so listen to that advice.


  1. Document everything:

Make sure that you document everything. Keep a record of the seller’s information, as well as documentation of the sale in the form of a written receipt. Also, make sure that the transfer of registration is recorded too. Keep it all!


  1. Remain vigilant:

We cannot stress the importance of being cautious. With such a significant investment, you can’t be too careful. If you feel at all uncomfortable with the transaction you should simply pull out. Remember: you don’t owe the seller anything!

If we leave you with one final remark, it’s this old adage: if it sounds like a deal that is too good to be true, it probably is!


How to Avoid Car Scams Altogether


Scammers that make use of the many online platforms available for car sales benefit from the ability to be relatively anonymous. If you want to avoid this entirely, you need to make sure you are buying or selling with a trusted player within the industry.

At Cars Brisbane, we’re one of Brisbane’s most established car dealers. We buy any car, and we have a reputation for providing sellers with the price their car is actually worth. If you’re unsure of how to navigate your used car journey, we can help. Contact us today!