It's the start of the car-buying season. But if you are buying a used car, buyer beware.
Fake car ads, advertising inexpensive used cars that don't really exist, are everywhere, as one woman found out.
Heather Wolff wanted to purchase a used car this spring, so she checked Facebook Marketplace and found a gorgeous yellow Volkswagen convertible a few hundred miles away.
"It looked like an amazing deal, $800 for a VW bug," Wolff said.
Why so cheap? The seller told her in an email, "My son just passed away from a bike accident, he was 26, and we just want to get rid of the car."
It was the deal of a lifetime until the woman told her to send her a deposit in gift cards.
"She told me to buy gift cards, eBay gift cards," a perplexed Wolff said. The seller explained the reason was that eBay was handling the sale (which it doesn't really do).
Growing suspicious, Wolff kept looking, and soon found a 2006 Honda Accord for just $1,000.
"I thought, this looks like a good deal, too," she said.
This time, the seller's husband had just passed away.
In both cases someone had died, the car was too far away to see in person, and Wolff needed to send a deposit in eBay gift cards.
Scam now has a name
It's a scam so common it has a name: "the eBay Motors scam."
Last year, we spoke with Deyja Wallace, a young woman who lost $1,200 trying to buy another inexpensive Honda Accord she found on a buying-and-selling app.
"The lady told me her husband had just passed away and she needed to hurry up and sell the car," Wallace said.
LifeWire.Com says to protect yourself from this scam:
- Never pay a deposit with gift cards, as they are untraceable.
- Beware cars that are priced too low, compared to similar cars of that year.
- Avoid used cars you can't see in person, as scammers copy legitimate ads, complete with photos, actual VIN number, and CARFAX report, and repost them with their phone number.
- If you feel you MUST buy a car that is out of town, find a car inspector in that area and pay him $100 to check out the car and make sure it is real.
Finally, be suspicious of strange reasons for such a low price, such as an owner suddenly deployed overseas, or a son or husband who recently passed away.
Heather Wolff is glad she got suspicious of the cute little VW Beetle she almost sent money to buy.
"She said she lost her son, and the car had eyelashes on it, and it's yellow," Wolff said. "This was a boy's car?"
Want to avoid a used-car ripoff? Shop locally and do a test drive, so you don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money" is a registered trademark of Scripps Media, Inc. ("Scripps").
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This story was first published by John Matarese at WCPO.