Can You Get Scammed Buying a Car on eBay?


eBay is one of the biggest markets in the world for buying and selling used cars, trucks, SUVs, vans and other vehicles, but should you worried about the possibility of being scammed when buying a car on eBay?

Buying a used car always opens up the possibility of being scammed, and buying a car on eBay is no exception. Many of the same rules apply to buying used cars on eBay as they do anywhere else, but there are certain safeguards and particular things to look out for when buying a car on eBay.

Here are the subjects I’m going to cover so you’ll know what to look out for so you know when to walk away, when to buy, and how you can protect yourself from being scammed on eBay.

  • Suspicious listings
  • Feedback
  • Private or Trader?
  • eBay Motors Vehicle Purchase Protection
  • Payment
  • Location
  • Protection

Suspicious listings

The first thing you need to assess before going further with a purchase through eBay Motors is the listing itself. Is there anything suspicious about it that means you should either ignore it and move on or at least do a little more digging before proceeding.

Images: Start with the images. Are there plenty of them or just one or two? Do they fit with the description? Are they decent quality so you can see a good amount of detail? Are there images focusing on any damage or wear and tear, especially if it’s an older vehicle or one with a lot of miles on the odometer?

You might find it hard to believe, but sometimes you will see a listing for a vehicle and the images will be of a completely different make and model to the one described. Now, this could just be an error with the uploading on eBay, but I’m not sure you should go any further if the images are completely different from the vehicle described and the seller has left the listing up.

Price: If something seems too good to be true it probably is, and this is definitely the case here with the prices of cars for sale on eBay. Be careful though. Don’t just immediately scroll past a vehicle if it has a ridiculously cheap price before you check out what type of listing it is. If it’s a proper auction – with or without a reserve price – you could see a nearly new model with low mileage starting at a couple of hundred dollars.

If it’s a “Buy it Now” or a “Buy it Now or Best Offer” listing and the price is ridiculously low, it’s either a glaring mistake or a too-good-to-be-true scam.

Feedback

One of the big plus-points of buying anything from sellers on eBay is the feedback system, but it’s not necessarily a lot of help for you if you’re looking to buy a vehicle. Just think about it for a moment. How often do you sell your car and how often have you sold something on eBay? Just because a seller is new to the site and they don’t have a ton of positive feedback doesn’t mean they’re trying to scam you on a used vehicle sale.

eBay is a big marketplace for selling vehicles, so it’s a good place for anyone to advertise if they want to sell. They could have joined eBay just to sell their car, so don’t disregard an eBay Motors listing just because the seller doesn’t have a lot of feedback. Proceed with caution, of course, but if you decide to enquire further you should be able to work out if the seller is genuine or not through ways other than the feedback system.

If the listing claims to be a private seller and not a trader, they shouldn’t have a load of feedback for selling vehicles. They could easily have hundreds or even thousands of sales with positive feedback for items other than vehicles, but if they’ve sold a load of vehicles before, especially recently, they’re probably a trader. There’s nothing wrong with buying from a trader, but don’t buy from someone claiming to be a private seller when they’re actually a trader making a living from selling vehicles. That should definitely ring alarm bells.

Private Seller or Trader?

There plusses and minuses to buying from a private seller or a trader, so I’m not going to say ignore one and go with the other. You are probably more likely to come across an online scammer and fraudster claiming to be a private seller, but we all know that there are plenty of used car traders both online and offline that are out to stitch buyers up.

The best advice I can give here is to use due diligence, just the way you would if you were answering a vehicle advertisement anywhere else. Establish whether the seller is a private seller or a trader, and then proceed appropriately.

If they are a private seller they will probably be as wary as you are as a potential buyer. After all, there are scammers out there looking to get vehicles without paying just as there are unscrupulous sellers too.

There are plenty of large dealerships who advertise on eBay, and if you see the seller is one of those you are probably going to be about as safe as you could be buying a used vehicle. Unfortunately, large dealers have large overheads and they know exactly how much the vehicle they’re selling is worth, so you’re less likely to get a bargain from a dealer.

Private sellers have all sorts of reasons for selling their vehicles. Some will have unrealistic expectations of what their vehicle is worth, some will want a realistic market price, but some will be selling cheap for a quick sale due to their circumstances. Find out why the private seller is looking to sell, but beware of a seller who appears too enthusiastic about divulging some sort of heart-wrenching sob story, especially before you’ve even asked why they’re selling.

Trade sellers may be able to offer you thinks like warranties and finance that you won’t be able to get from a private seller, and that could help justify a higher price. However, regardless of whether the buyer is private or trade, be very careful about them trying to take the sale out of eBay completely.

You have the eBay Vehicle Protection Scheme to fall back on if the sale is completed through eBay, but that becomes void if you complete the sale outside of the platform. Also, be aware of any seller who “promises” you the eBay protection plan even though you are taking the transaction outside of eBay. That is simply not possible and they either don’t realize that, or they’re trying to scam you.

eBay Motors Vehicle Purchase Protection

Starting and ending a vehicle transaction on eBay Motors automatically entitles you to eBay’s Vehicle Protection Program. More than 5 million cars have been sold through the platform this way to date, and eBay Motors offers several protections you won’t find anywhere else online. These include Vehicle Purchase Protection of up to a maximum of $100,000 for items purchased on or since September 1, 2016. If you purchased the vehicle before that date your eligible vehicle purchase is protected for up to $50,000 or the vehicle purchase price, whichever is the lower of the two amounts.

Thankfully, I’ve never had to use this scheme and I don’t know anyone who has. The only people I know who’ve had problems with buying through eBay have taken the sale outside of eBay. I have, however, had a lot of dealing with eBay for other items, and I am more than a little skeptical about how much protection the eBay and PayPal systems actually provide.

Payment

So you’ve done all your research, you’re happy with everything so far, and you’re ready to go ahead with the purchase. Now we come to the tricky area of payment. If you are going to pay a holding deposit, which the seller is perfectly entitled to ask for I would strongly recommend you use PayPal. It’s one of the safest ways to pay relatively small amounts, and you could get double protection if you use your credit card to make the PayPal payment.

Of course, eBay would prefer you to pay the balance through its Financing Center, but there are plenty of other ways you could safely pay the outstanding balance. Good ways include good old cash on collection or delivery, credit card, PayPal, Bill Me Later, money order, cashier’s check or financial loans. A personal check can be safe for you, but it’s unlikely a seller who doesn’t know you would be prepared to let you drive a vehicle away on the strength of a personal check.

Beware if a seller tries to insist you use another, more immediate method so they can get their hands on the money sooner than you might be happy with. Be very wary of requests to use the likes of Western Union, Direct Bank Transfer, Moneygram, or any method you’re not familiar with.

As long as you set the account up and not the seller, an Escrow account could also be a good way of paying the balance and ensuring a good level of safety.

Location

Buying cars in any way from out of state brings its own rules and regulations into play, but when I say beware of location with buying through eBay I’m talking about something else entirely.

If you are buying from a private seller you should be going to their home to view the car. If they try to convince you to meet them somewhere else like a parking lot or their “workplace” it should start to ring very loud alarm bells. Even you go to an address they claim to be their home, make sure you meet them at the door or you at least see them go inside the address for some reason if they are waiting at the car when you arrive.

You could ask them for the service history or to see the title, but if they have all those items on hand, you could ask if you could use the bathroom or if they could get you a drink of water. Meeting someone “half way” or “at work” is something you should never do when buying a used car through eBay or anywhere else for that matter.

Of course, if you are buying from a trader or a dealership you should be going to their place of business. In some cases though, a trader may not have premises and they could be just working from their home flipping a few cars to make extra bucks. In that case, behave in exactly the same way as you would if you were visiting the home of a private seller.

Protection

There are many ways you can get scammed buying a car through eBay Motors, but it’s your responsibility to make the transaction as secure as possible and not necessarily eBay’s. As mentioned earlier, if you complete the transaction from start to finish through eBay you’ll be covered by eBay Motors Vehicle Purchase Protection. If you pay using the prescribed methods mentioned above you’ll also have a decent level of protection.

However, there are still issues with buying a used car you need to look out for that are the same through eBay or anywhere else. Make sure you get a vehicle history check done if you’re buying from a private seller or ask to see it if you’re buying from a trader. If you’re not particularly well versed in auto mechanics yourself, getting a vehicle checked over by an expert from AAA or somewhere else is also a good idea, especially if it’s a relatively expensive vehicle you’re looking to buy.

Don’t be afraid of buying a car through eBay Motors. It’s as good a place as anywhere to search for a used vehicle, but only as long as you take the same or even more precautions than you would when buying a used car from anywhere or anyone.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and now an automotive writer and journalist for the last 7 years

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