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With car sales typically down in December this could make it a great time to go car shopping – whether you are buying new or used. Dealers are often trying to get rid of stock to hit their end of year sales targets, so you could find them more willing to offer discounts. With that said, it’s not just car dealers that take opportunity of this quiet period – criminals could be on the prowl as well.

To help you avoid falling victim to a scam when buying a car this winter, we’re going to take you through some of the most common scams.

Overseas purchase

Picture this – you’ve done your research online and think you’ve stumbled across your dream car. When you enquire, you’re told that the car is currently abroad for some reason and will need to be shipped to you. The money needs to be paid into an ‘escrow’ holding account – a third party service that helps to make transactions complete.

Typically with a scam like this, all communication is made via email (often in broken English) and the vehicle will usually be advertised for much less than you’d expect. If you take a risk with a purchase like this, you’re unlikely to ever see your money again and as you willingly transferred the money, the police probably will be unable to do anything for you.

Stolen or cloned vehicles

In a scam that’s been seen time and time again, fraudsters steal a car and change the number plates to disguise it, known as ‘cloning’ a car. By swapping the number plates, registration document and even the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) the car looks seemingly genuine to an unassuming buyer.

To spot a cloned car, you should carry out a car check to make sure that all of the details you’ve been given match up. You can do this through sites such as totalcarcheck and HPI for a small charge, and this will tell you whether the vehicle has been written off, recorded as stolen or has any outstanding finance on it as well.

If the car passes the appropriate checks, look for any signs of tampering with the number plates and VIN, as well as documentation such as the V5 registration (this should have a DVL watermark) and service history. If the car doesn’t come with the appropriate documentation, walk away.

Under financial agreement

With a lot of cars now sold through finance (e.g. hire purchase or leasing) some will try to sell on their car even though they still have outstanding finance left to pay on it. But legally the car is often not theirs to sell, as the finance provider keeps legal ownership over the vehicle until the final payment has been made.

If the seller is upfront about the fact that they still have payments to make on the car, don’t enter into any agreements where you’ll pay the seller so that they can clear the finance. This is called sub-hiring and is illegal.

So there you have it – some of the most common car selling scams around. Our final piece of advice is to remember: if it looks too good to be true it probably is!

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