You can buy practically anything online (seriously, what CAN’T you buy online?), but when purchasing a big-ticket item like a used car, you need to be extra careful.

The FTC is reporting that scammers are taking customers for a ride by “selling” vehicles they don’t have or don’t own.

How the scam works

Criminals post ads on online auction and sales websites, like eBay Motors, for inexpensive used cars. They offer to chat online, share additional photos, and answer your questions. They may even tell you the sale will go through a well-known retailer’s buyer protection program.

In reality, the scammer doesn’t own the car at all. They’re using photos and a great deal to lure victims into falling for their con.

The FTC says that, recently, sellers have been sending fake invoices that appear to come from eBay Motors and demanding payment in eBay gift cards. If you call the number on the invoice, the scammer pretends to work for eBay Motors. Trusting buyers have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year alone.

How can you tell if an online car sale is fake?

The FTC says:

  • Search for bad reviews online. Check out the seller by searching online for the person’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”
  • High-pressure sales tactics. Resist the pressure. Scammers try to rush you into buying without thinking things through.
  • They can’t or won’t meet in person or let you inspect the car. Scammers might have an excuse, like a job transfer, military deployment, or divorce, for why you can’t see them or the car. But experts agree that you should have an independent mechanic inspect a used car before you buy it.
  • They want you to pay with gift cards or by wire transfer. If anyone tells you to pay that way, it’s a scam. Every time.
  • The sellers demand more money after the sale for “shipping” or “transportation” costs.
  • The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) doesn’t match the VIN for the car you’re interested in. vehicle history report can help you spot such discrepancies.

One more tip: Run a Google Image Search on the as photos to see if they were used in scams before. Click on the camera icon in the search box to upload a picture—either from your computer or the internet.

For more, check out and Online Auction Buyers. Also, this scam isn’t the only one out there. US News & World Report has a list of 5 Used Car Scams and Business Insider shares 8 of the Biggest Scams to Avoid When Buying a Car. If you spot a scam, report it by visiting

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