- Never send money for a vehicle you haven't seen in person.
- Never give up personal information or log in details.
- If a price seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
Phishing Scams are currently being attempted on our site, please read our Phishing Emails section to stay up to date on what to look out for.
Check the current market value. If the car you are looking at is more than 15% below the current market value for trade or private, there will usually be a good reason for it. Fraudsters will often place adverts on the site which are on sale for a fraction of what they could be eg.) If a Porsche 911 is listed for sale at £4600, it is likely that the advert is fraudulent. Please also be wary of adverts without telephone numbers, you should always be able to speak to the seller and see the car before any money changes hands.
Meet in a suitable place. When buying privately, try to arrange to view the car at the seller's house so that you can be more certain it isn't stolen.
ALWAYS view the car before you purchase it
You'd be amazed how many people send money online for a car they haven't even seen: how do they know it even exists? Keep your cash in your wallet until you see the colour of the metal. If the seller gives you any reason at all that you can't view the car eg.) they are currently abroad, do not proceed with the sale.
With the help of Trading Standards, we've compiled a list of things you should check when buying a car. It may seem extensive but it's important. A lot of dealers will sell the car "as described" - having a checklist like this to hand will help you identify what needs doing BEFORE you purchase the car.
Fake Escrow/Transport Scams
This fraud revolved around the scammer setting up a fake website offering Escrow services.
Escrow services act as a third party in a long distance sale, A genuine Escrow Service allows sellers to send goods safe in the knowledge that funds exist and are being held safely until the goods have been delivered. In turn, the buyer can feel secure in the knowledge that the car can be seen, checked for suitability/condition and the money will be paid over only when this is confirmed to the Escrow Service. In this scam however, the fake Escrow site is run by the "seller" and is therefore not the safe place for your money that it appears to be.
When used in car sales the "seller" normally asks for money to be paid into a specific Escrow service before they will send the car for you to view. The cost of shipping the car from one country to another, or previous issues with time wasters are commonly used excuses for wanting to use an Escrow service. Once the money is paid to the Escrow service it will immediately be transferred out by the "seller" who will disappear, never to be seen again.
The fraud can also work the other way: a fraudulent buyer can attempt to trick a seller into handing over a car that hasn't been paid for by simply sending an official-looking e-mail from a fake escrow service stating that funds have been received and to go ahead with the transfer of the vehicle. The scammer will disappear with the car and the fake escrow service will string the seller along for long enough for them to make a clean get-away.
While the use of a genuine Ecscrow service can be a good precaution to take, you should be EXTREMELY wary of anyone who insists on using a particular site. NEVER follow links given in e-mails, always navigate to the site yourself via a search engine. Check out any website VERY carefully before using it, The fake ones can be extremely hard to spot. Several sites (including eBay) maintain lists of genuine Escrow services which should always be checked.
If in any doubt, do not send any money to anyone. There are always plenty of other cars on the market and if it looks to good to be true, it probably is.
PistonHeads Buyer Protection & PistonHeads Secure Payments
In this scam, fraudulent sellers claim to be acting on behalf of PistonHeads and attempt to offer potential buyers a secure and safe way to buy a car. Please be aware that PistonHeads DOES NOT offer a secure payment service and you should not take the transaction any further if you are invited to complete the sale in this way. The only service PistonHeads provides is a platform on which to advertise cars - we do not get involved with payment handling in any way nor will PistonHeads will never be involved in the holding of cars.
The suggestion to use the fraudulent PistonHeads payment service is usually offered via e-mail, and is sent using an official-looking e-mail which mentions PistonHeads throughout. Again, we stress that this is not genuine and you should not proceed. If you are ever in doubt about whether or not an e-mail is genuine, please forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org for confirmation.
Occasionally fraudulent advertisers will ask you to call PistonHeads directly to confirm sale or transaction details. The number provided will often start with 0800. PistonHeads does not provide an 0800 telephone service, so if invited to call a number like this, the only call you should make is to 0208 102 0508 to alert us to the potential scam.
If a car you are interested in is suddenly removed from the site, please be aware that this may be because the advert was fraudulent. A seller will not usually remove an advert until the deal has been done, so be on your guard if a seller claims to have removed an advert because they believe you will buy the car.
If an advert shows the message 'rejected by PistonHeads' it means that PistonHeads staff have removed the advert, rather than the seller. Please contact us if you are suspicious, or if you have any questions relating to the advert you are viewing.
These scams are usually advertising a car that is priced significantly below market value. If something seems too good to be true it usually is.
We are currently aware of a fraudulent e-mail being sent from the following addresses: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
These are NOT genuine PistonHeads email addresses and any communication received from them should be forwarded to email@example.com for investigation.
They have also previously sent using the following e-mail addresses:
PistonHeads has notified the relevant authorities and has requested that the website the scammers use be shut down. In the meantime please be on your guard and be aware that Pistonheads do not offer an approved seller scheme, nor do we offer payment or transaction protection.
If in any doubt, note that PistonHeads correspondance will only ever be sent from an e-mail address ending @pistonheads.com or @haymarket.com
There have been cases in which buyers looking for a particular model have placed wanted ads on the Internet. The advertiser has then been contacted by e-mail or phone and offered a car matching the specification required. The buyer is then requested to meet the seller with cash to purchase the vehicle.
Upon arrival the buyer is met by armed men and forced to hand over the cash.
It sounds obvious, but even experienced motor traders have been taken in by plausible stories like this. NEVER AGREE TO TAKE CASH WITH YOU. Also, ask for enough details of the car to satisfy yourself that the car is in their possession (particularly if it's a specialist car).
There has recently been a resurgence in this kind of crime across all car classified websites. Please take appropriate caution and if you are in any doubt about a seller then contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wire Transfer Scam
Scammers request that a buyer sends the full value of the car they are selling via wire-transfer, usually through Amazon Payments, Western Union or a fake Ebay Secure page. Ebay do not organise payment what so ever, if you are directed to an eBay listing, please report it to them. As before, ALWAYS VIEW THE CAR BEFORE YOU PURCHASE IT.
Private Registration Scam
The scam begins with an advert for a private registration plate, and ends with you buying a number plate that's worth only the plastic it's written on.
The scam works in one of two ways:
- Either the number plate never belonged to the seller, they have simply sent you a copy of a plate which is not legal for use on your vehicle and which you will receive no retention or transfer documents relating to.
- Alternatively, a genuine, legally endorsed registration plate is sent with a retention certificate, however the plate is stolen. Therefore, although real, the plate the buyer receives is rendered obsolete and worthless.
To avoid becoming a victim of scams such as these, ensure you receive the correct documentation and that the authorities are informed of any changes.
PistonHeads Phishing E-mails
Phishers try to separate you from your hard-earned cash by using official looking emails or SMS texts which contain a link, designed to capture your log in or bank account information. Always check any links that are sent via email, ensuring they direct to a PistonHeads.com page. You can also check the "reply to" email address, and if it is anything but an @pistonheads.com, em.pistonheads.com or @haymarket.com address, DO NOT reply.
Our payments are processed securely by WorldPay, we do not store payment details on our website, so any request to re-enter them will be fraudulent. If you have entered them on a page you suspect could be fraudulent, you will need to cancel your card immediately and request a replacement.
We are aware of a large number of e-mails being sent with a variety of topics, the latest of which are listed below. The scam starts with a "feeler" email, sent through our classifieds system, this will be vague and may even ask you questions the answers to which are already contained in your advert. Should you reply to one of these emails, your email address will be recorded and a phishing email will be sent to you. The most common email addresses which are used to do this are @comcast.net, @outlook.com and @gmail.com addresses which may contain a + symbol in the address prefix. If you are suspicious of an email you have received, you can contact us to verify it.
Popular phishing email subject headings:
- PistonHeads Worldpay Issued Chargeback
- I've seen a topic about you on the forums, I just want to know if it is true?
- Your advert will be removed within 24 hours if you do not update your security information
- Payment not complete, please re enter your card details.
- Your price has dropped by 50%, can you confirm this is your car?
The link directs you to a fake version of our login page in an attempt to steal your username and password.
If you have entered your information, change your password as soon as possible. Please ensure your password is completely different to your last. If your email, or any other online account shares the same password, this will need to be updated too. It has been known for fraudsters to compromise email accounts because the user has used the same password. Whilst setting separate passwords may seem like an annoyance - it is a simple step which really will save you time (and potentially money) in the long run. If you cannot log into your account then please let us know and we will reset your password. If you think your email account has been compromised as a result of a phishing email from any site, please contact your provider and ensure any forwarding addresses are removed.
If you did not log into the fake website, then you do not need to worry. We will be working with the authorities to remove it.
The most common scam attempted online involves a foreign buyer or agent wanting to purchase a vehicle and, despite not having seen it, they say they'll agree to the asking price. The details of the scam vary, but usually start with asking for your name, address and sometimes bank details.
Sadly, you need to be suspicious of any buyers from Africa for this reason. Sometimes these scams also originate in continental Europe.
BE WARY OF ANY BUYER WHO SHOWS MORE INTEREST IN OBTAINING PERSONAL DETAILS THAN THE VEHICLE WHICH YOU ARE SELLING.
NEVER ACCEPT PAYMENT FOR MORE THAN THE AGREED PRICE. These scams usually involve fake PayPal transfers which seem to exceed the agreed amount for the vehicle. The fraudulent buyer then requests that you return the difference to them once they discover their 'mistake'. Subsequently it will be discovered by the seller's bank that the original cheque was fake or that the funds transferred weren't valid. The "excess" money the seller has returned to the buyer will be gone, leaving them out of pocket.
In this scam the legitimate seller is e-mailed by scammers posing as an interested buyer. The scammers suggest making payment through the secure payment site PayPal, and claim to have transferred the agreed sum into the seller's PayPal account. However, they've actually transferred nothing. The scammers say PayPal is holding the money until they've received the goods. It is likely that you'll receive e-mails which claim to be from PayPal - they'll look authentic and reassure you that it's safe to proceed. These are fake.
This scam sees a criminal put your reg number on their car and use it for nefarious purposes. Technically it should be impossible to buy registration plates without proof of ownership, but 'show only' plates are available if you know where to look. If someone asks for a copy of your V5C before meeting you, do not give them it. All you need to complete a vehicle provenance check, is the registration of the car. You can usually spot these scams as they are written in broken English and ask for the following
- Up close pictures of the underneath of the car
- V5 documentation
- VIN Number
Buyer Waiting Scam
Rather than being carried out via e-mail, this scam more commonly occurs over the phone.
Scammers call sellers, telling them they have a buyer for their car with money ready, but the seller just needs to pay a £4.99 fee over the phone with a debit card first.
The sting in the tail with this scam is that they then go ahead and withdraw as much money as possible from the victim's account, emptying it completely if not stopped.
We advise that you are very wary about any company claiming to have buyers waiting, especially if they ask for you to make an immediate payment. Genuine companies will not require upfront payment from the seller and you are likely to be left out of pocket waiting for imaginary buyers to get in touch.
VSTAG and Action Fraud
The Vehicle Safe Trading Advisory Group (VSTAG) website www.vstag.co.uk contains up-to-date information on everything relating to buying or selling a car and also offers advice on what to do when things go wrong. The website www.actionfraud.police.uk allows victims to report individual frauds, these are then added to a national database with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice.