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Cost-of-living crisis putting hard-up Brits at risk of scams


Aug 22, 2023
  • Nearly a third (31%) of 18-24-year-olds have been a victim or know a victim of vehicle fraud.
  • Londoners most likely to be a victim of car fraud than anywhere else across GB, with more than one in 10 having been personally impacted.
  • Car buyers choosing less secure payment options, not conducting history checks, and missing out on consumer protection laws in a bid to save money.

At a time when average used car prices have increased over £4,000[1] in three years, and household finances are being squeezed, car buyers are laying themselves open to scams and financial fraud to save money, by choosing less secure payment options, not conducting vehicle history checks, and making purchases that aren’t covered by consumer protection laws. That’s the key finding from new research commissioned by the Vehicle Safe Trading Advisory Group (VSTAG), the UK’s leading vehicle trading safety advisory body, which is encouraging car buyers to follow important steps to protect themselves.

Demand for cars remains strong according to YouGov research conducted on behalf of VSTAG, with one in four (25%) consumers intending to purchase this year. But more than one in 10 (13%) car buyers said that due to growing financial pressures, they would only be able to make a purchase with a ‘good deal’, potentially putting more buyers at risk of scams. This is because fraudulent advertisements placed by criminals posing as sellers, often involve a hoax vehicle at a bargain price to entice unwitting car buyers. 

The survey found nearly one in two Brits (47%) are prepared to pay potentially thousands of pounds to a seller directly from their bank account to gain a better price. Most fraudulent sellers will try to convince buyers to transfer money before seeing the vehicle. Where possible, using a credit card to make the purchase is the safest option, as it provides consumers with a layer of protection, as the credit-card company may be able to help if there is a dispute or issue with the car.

A full vehicle history check can help safeguard car buyers against fraudulent activity, enabling them to confirm important details of the vehicle, including whether it’s been recorded as stolen, written off, scrapped, or is subject to outstanding finance. However, only 37% of people are likely to invest in a full check to review the background and history of the car before making their purchase.

Moreover, of those who are planning to buy a car this year, around a third of individuals (32%) would not be willing to pay additional costs in order to make a purchase from a retailer, preferring instead to select a cheaper car from an unknown seller. Most people aren’t aware of the additional benefits of buying from a car retailer; not only can they check previous customer reviews, but they also have the peace of mind of being protected by the Consumer Rights Act, which provides cover should there be faults with the car.

Young people (18–24-year-olds) and Londoners most likely to be affected by car buying scams.
Whilst the vast majority of car buying transactions happen without incident, 13% of people across Great Britain have been a victim or know a victim of a scam. This figure soars to 31% amongst younger buyers aged 18-24. In contrast, it falls to just 5% of people aged over 55, which may well account for why only 31% of people in this age group feel the need to invest in a full vehicle history check, the lowest of any group.

Looking at the data at a regional level, Londoners have experienced the most vehicle fraud, with more than one in ten (15%) of those living in the capital being personally impacted compared to a national average of just 6%. Wales is the region where people are the least likely to be affected by car scams, with just 4% of those surveyed saying they or someone they knew had been a victim of automotive related fraud.

Commenting on behalf of VSTAG, Tony Neate, Chief Executive Officer of Get Safe Online, said: “Although car buying and selling is as safe as any other purchase, VSTAG is concerned the growing squeeze on household finances may be putting more people at risk of scams. After your home, a car is likely to be the largest single purchase you make, and so we want to remind people of the small, but simple steps that everyone can take to not only minimise risk, but to also put themselves in the strongest position should they be affected by fraud.

“When buying a vehicle, one piece of advice is fundamental. Make sure you see the vehicle ‘in the metal’ before parting with payment. Being asked for any sort of money before even seeing that the car exists is a big red flag, so don’t be caught out.”

David Callington, HSBC UK’s Head of Fraud, added: “Scammers are devious criminals who use a range of techniques to steal money from people without any concern for the mental or financial wellbeing of their victims. There are a number of simple checks that can be done before buying a vehicle to ensure it actually exists, is roadworthy and doesn’t have outstanding finance attached to it. There are also things that can be done to reduce the risk of being a victim of a scam. Be suspicious if a seller wants you to make a bank transfer or asks you to send money before you have actually seen the vehicle. Remember, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

VSTAG was established in 2006 by Auto Trader and includes members from Gumtree and Motors.co.uk. They work with representatives from law enforcement organisations, consumer advisory bodies, including the Metropolitan Police, the NPCC, Trading Standards, the Motor Ombudsman, and Get Safe Online. VSTAG works to drive down online vehicle crime, educate car buyers on potential scams and offers guidance and advice on how to avoid them.

VSTAG’s tips on how you can protect yourself from falling victim to vehicle scams:

  1. Payment advice:
    Never send money for a vehicle you haven’t seen. Don’t carry large amounts of cash.
  2. Paying a deposit:
    If a deposit is requested or agreed, only pay what you are willing to lose and confirm with the seller that they will refund the deposit if you don’t purchase the vehicle.
  3. View the vehicle before paying the full amount:
    We recommend researching the seller as well as their vehicle. Most fraudulent sellers will try to persuade you to transfer money before you’ve even laid eyes on the vehicle. A red flag is the seller insisting on communicating only via email rather than on the phone.
  4. Always check that the price of the vehicle is in line with the market value:
    If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is: a bargain price could be a sign of fraud. Research other similar vehicles or perform a free valuation on Auto Trader. If the vehicle is below market value, beware. Ask the seller questions about its valuation; there may be underlying reasons if the vehicle is under-priced.
  5. Take the vehicle for a test drive:
    Be sure to thoroughly inspect any vehicle you are looking to purchase and take it for a test drive. The test drive should always be done from the seller’s premises or their home; never let the person meet you halfway.
  6. Always carry out a vehicle history check:
    A history check will tell you if the vehicle is recorded as stolen, written off, scrapped, or is subject to outstanding finance. You can conduct a basic check for free on Auto Trader.

To find out more, including the latest car buying and selling scams, as well as advice on what checks you should make when buying or selling a car, please visit: https://vstag.co.uk

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