Be wary of car scams this holiday season

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Be on alert for scams when trying to sell your car to a private party, especially during the holidays.

■ By Richard Perry / Contributed

Greetings from the Hemet Car Guy,
This past year I have received calls from several scammers who want to log in to your computer remotely to fix an alleged bug or from people who want you to believe they are from the Internal Revenue Service. Rest assured, the IRS never makes phone calls; they always contact you by mail.
While scams occur year-round, during the holidays most of us focus less on our jobs and more on family, friends, gift giving and celebrations. Unfortunately, the holidays are also a cause for celebration by scammers, identity thieves and phishers, but for a very different and disgusting reason: Our joyful distraction provides them with many opportunities to exploit our giving nature and typically we have our guard down.
Now, more than ever, people are buying online, particularly me, because I like to avoid the shopping pitfalls I wrote about two weeks ago before Black Friday. So I either shop local when it’s not so busy, or I use Amazon, even though internet fraud has increased during the past several years.
Sometimes you just don’t know where to turn, especially when big-ticket transactions are a primary target, but that shouldn’t keep you from selling your car on your own as I’ve pointed out in previous articles. You can do it, but be cautious and prepare yourself for potential scams.
Since I’m the Car Guy, the main car scams to watch out for include fraudulent cashier’s checks or buying a vehicle sight unseen.

Cashier’s check scams
Typically, the so-called buyer usually inquires from out of state or even overseas. They say they want to pay for the car with a cashier’s check or certified check in an amount that’s higher than the vehicle’s asking price.
The buyer justifies paying more by saying they need the vehicle quickly for a family gift, or the extra money is needed to pay for shipping expenses or customs fees. Keep in mind that the initial contact from this type of buyer is via text message or email; they won’t usually call, and they come up with myriad excuses for a lack of phone communication. Then they will either ask you to wire the difference back to them or to the shipping company to cover expenses. Alternatively, they’ll send you a cashier’s check as a down payment, and then decide to back out of the deal and demand a refund of the deposit.
Don’t wire money! It’s never a good idea to wire money to someone you don’t know because it’s an untraceable transaction. So stop right there!

Buying sight unseen is a red flag

Another common scenario is for a fraudulent buyer to request to purchase a vehicle without ever seeing it, claiming it is “priced favorably.” Fraudulent buyers typically confirm the asking price, request photographs and ask whether there have been any repairs to the vehicle. Upon the seller’s response, the fraudulent buyer then tells the seller that a particular third-party service is the most secure way to conduct online transactions and asks for the seller’s third-party service account details.
At this point, the buyer will often explain, similar to the cashier’s check scam, that payment has been arranged in excess of the selling price and instructs the seller to return the overpayment with PayPal, Western Union or MoneyGram. However, you may not learn that the PayPal transfer or other third-party transaction was not real until after the money has been successfully transferred.

Always verify a buyer’s identity

Always verify the identity of the buyer as well as the payment method before initiating a transaction. And it’s important to exercise caution when a buyer wishes to purchase your vehicle without seeing it or negotiating the price.
The best practice is to meet in person, probably at your local police department or sheriff station. Think about it, would you buy a car without seeing it? I wouldn’t.

Hope this helps
Richard J Perry

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