All You Need To Know About Used Car Scams

Written by Danny Collins
Last updated: September 21, 2023

Looking to purchase a used car but worried that you might fall foul to a forecourt scam? You’re not alone. With so many rogue traders operating, it can be difficult knowing who to trust. Especially if you’re new to the car game. So just how can you avoid being a victim of a used car scam?

Read on as we uncover our top tips on how to successfully navigate the perilous road ahead!

Common Used Car Scams and How to Avoid Them

If you’re currently considering investing in some new, albeit used wheels then this is the article for you. Sadly, just because you’ve opted to buy from what appears on the surface of things to be a reputable dealership, doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get the rug pulled from under your proverbial feet! It always makes sense to run a car vehicle check before purchasing any car, regardless of who the vendor is. Sometimes the car dealers themselves may be none the wiser than the private seller and might not know what they got on their books. So a free reg check in our books is a must to help mitigate any potential exposure to scammers.

So let’s dive in and look at common used car scams and how they’re best avoided.

1. Clocking

It’s one of the oldest cons in the car selling books! While luckily it has become increasingly more challenging to clock today’s modern vehicles, the criminal mind will always find some elaborate way of executing their scam, including switching off the warning lights which masks undetected miles as well as undeclared faults. Our best bet? Look out for suspicious black tape around the instrument cluster which could be an indication that the engine management light system is being purposefully concealed.

Tips to Avoid Clocking


We go back again to the importance of running and referring to that all important car vehicle check. Here you’ll be able to discover the vehicle’s real mileage from its last recorded MOT. You just need the car’s registration plate to be able to run this handy test. And if the registration is obscured and the vendor unwilling to reveal, then you most definitely have cause for concern.

Once you know the mileage at the last MOT figure, you can then check it against the car’s odometer. This will give you a really clear indication of whether you’re being scammed or not. Look out for visible signs of wear and tear of the car having travelled more miles than are being recorded by the clock.

As a rough guide, we recommend that an average car does 10,000 miles a year so if the car you’re purchasing is 10 years old, you can expect the mileage on the clock to be in the region of 100,000 miles.

2. Cloning

We’ve covered off clocking, now let’s discuss cloning, a super sneaky tactic of rogue car sellers. This is where car criminals steal a car then swap the number plates with another car. You think you’re buying a genuine used car and it turns out it’s been stolen to order. Eventually the police track down the stolen vehicle and you’re left out of pocket and without wheels.

Even worse is if your new used car turns out to be what’s known as a “cut and shut”. Meaning two damaged cars have been fused together. These cars are completely unroadworthy and to be avoided at all costs.

3. Online selling platforms and marketplaces

eBay, Facebook and Gumtree might seem to be popular and trustworthy platforms but with individuals responsible for writing their own listings, it’s easy to be misled by a would-be car crook. These are the red alerts which recommend being aware of.

  1. Being asked to pay for the vehicle outside of the platform itself. Never, we repeat, never go down this route otherwise you run the risk of losing any protection in the unfortunate event that a dispute subsequently needs to be raised.
  2. Asking price too good to be true? Then it probably is! Do your research, cheaper isn’t better especially when it comes to used cars. Other important considerations are condition, mileage and age, not just the cash value!
  3. The “seller” doesn’t know anything about the transaction! You turn up, ready to do the exchange only to discover the seller doesn’t have a clue who you are. Chances are, someone fraudulently tools pictures of another owner’s car to claim as their own! Yes, buyer beware!

4.   Quick Sale

We get it. Sometimes people need to get shut of their vehicle for various personal reasons. But we’d generally recommend vigilance if someone is looking to sell a car too quickly. It could be a red flag for a stolen car that they’re trying to pass on before the police catch up. Again, the best course of action is to carry out that all important vehicle check.

How to Avoid Getting Scammed. 7 Red Flags

As we already mentioned, if something seems too good to be true, it most probably is. With that in mind, these are the 7 most common red flags we recommend you look out if you want to avoid being scammed.

  • Seller unwilling to share the vehicle registration number prior to purchase
  • Seller unwilling to let you view the vehicle before buying
  • Missing service history documents
  • Missing V5C vehicle registration documents
  • Discrepancies between the VIN and V5C numbers
  • Seller only providing the green slip and not the full V5C document
  • Engine number on the V5C document doesn’t match that on the vehicle itself

Final Thoughts. How to avoid Used Car Scams?

The only way to have complete peace of mind that you are not about to fall foul of a used car scam is to carry out a vehicle check. This is the best possible way to gather all the vital information about the car you’re looking to purchase, including its full history as well as market value. That way, you can make not only a more informed purchasing decision but also get the right deal for your money.


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are some other used car scams?

Other used car scams include odometer fraud, salvage title fraud, VIN cloning, curb stoning, and online escrow scams. These scams are designed to deceive buyers and make them pay more or end up with a faulty vehicle.

Odometer fraud involves rolling back the mileage on a car to make it appear less used and more valuable. Salvage title fraud occurs when a vehicle with severe damage is repaired and sold without disclosing its salvage history. VIN cloning involves stealing a legitimate vehicle’s identification number (VIN) and applying it to a stolen vehicle of the same make and model. Curbstoning is when unlicensed dealers pose as private sellers to sell multiple cars for profit. Online escrow scams involve fraudsters creating fake escrow services to steal money from car buyers.


  1. How can I protect myself from odometer fraud?

To protect yourself from odometer fraud, it’s crucial to be diligent and take certain precautions. Firstly, request a vehicle history report. This report will provide you with detailed information about the car’s past, including its mileage. Inspect the maintenance records and compare the mileage on the odometer with the records. Look for signs of wear and tear that don’t match the mileage. Additionally, consider getting a professional inspection done by a trusted mechanic.


  1. What is salvage title fraud, and how can I avoid it?

Salvage title fraud occurs when a vehicle with significant damage, typically from accidents or natural disasters, is repaired and sold without disclosing its salvage history. To avoid falling victim to salvage title fraud, always obtain a vehicle history report. This report will indicate if the car has a salvage title.

Also, inspect the car thoroughly for signs of previous damage. Look for mismatched paint, uneven panel gaps, or signs of poor repair work. If you’re unsure, consider getting a professional inspection to assess the vehicle’s condition thoroughly.


  1. What is VIN cloning, and how does it work?

VIN cloning is a sophisticated scam where criminals steal a legitimate vehicle’s identification number (VIN) and apply it to a stolen vehicle of the same make and model. This process makes the stolen vehicle appear legal, and unsuspecting buyers may be deceived into purchasing a stolen car.

To avoid falling victim to VIN cloning, take several precautions. Firstly, obtain a vehicle history report and check for any inconsistencies in the paperwork or the vehicle’s history. Also, verify the VIN on multiple parts of the car, such as the dashboard, door frame, and engine compartment, to ensure they all match.


  1. What is curb stoning, and how can I identify it?

Curbstoning is a deceptive practice where unlicensed dealers pose as private sellers to sell multiple cars for profit. They often pretend to be the owner of the vehicle they’re selling to avoid legal obligations and responsibilities associated with selling cars as a business. To identify curb stoning, watch for signs of repeated sales in advertisements. If you notice the same seller repeatedly listing different cars for sale, it may indicate curbstone.

Also, look for inconsistent contact information and multiple cars for sale in the same location. Always request proper documentation, including the title and registration, and consider using licensed dealers for your car purchase.


  1. How can I avoid online escrow scams when buying a used car?

Online escrow scams involve fraudsters creating fake escrow services to steal money from car buyers. They often ask buyers to deposit funds into the escrow account, but once the money is sent, the scammer disappears, leaving the buyer without their money or the car.

To avoid falling victim to online escrow scams, exercise caution when dealing with sellers who insist on using a specific escrow service. Independently verify the legitimacy of the service by conducting research and reading reviews. Consider using reputable online marketplaces that have built-in buyer protection measures.


  1. What should I do if I suspect a used car scam?

If you suspect a used car scam, it’s essential to take immediate action to protect yourself and potentially help others. Firstly, gather as much evidence as possible. Document your interactions with the seller, including emails, text messages, and any other relevant communication. Take screenshots of online advertisements or listings. Secondly, report the scam to the police, providing them with all the evidence you’ve collected.


  1. What are some red flags to watch out for when buying a used car?

When buying a used car, it’s essential to be aware of potential red flags that may indicate a scam or an issue with the vehicle. Some common red flags include unusually low prices that seem too good to be true, sellers who avoid providing information or answering questions directly, inconsistent vehicle history information, and pressure to make a quick decision.

Trust your instincts and be cautious if something feels off or if the deal seems too suspicious. It’s always better to walk away from a potentially fraudulent transaction than to risk losing your money or ending up with a problematic vehicle.


  1. Is it safe to buy a used car from an online marketplace?

Buying a used car from an online marketplace can be safe if you take the necessary precautions. Start by carefully researching the seller. Look for their reputation, read reviews, and check if they have a history of positive transactions. Request detailed information about the vehicle, including its condition, maintenance history, and any relevant documentation such as the title and registration.

Always obtain a vehicle history report to get a comprehensive overview of the car’s past. If possible, arrange for a professional inspection before finalising the purchase. Reputable online marketplaces often have built-in buyer protection measures, but it’s still essential to exercise caution and do your due diligence.

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