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Motoring by Alan Judd. Beware of the con

Blog | Oct 30, 2023

Watch out for online car scams. I still remember the friend who paid for a car he hadn’t seen (priced well below market price) and drove to Norfolk to pick it up only to find an empty ruined house.

The car was real but in Devon, advertised at market price by a genuine seller whose advert the scammers had cloned, altering price and contact details.

Now there’s a website designed to alert you to such frauds. It’s the free-to-use Brego advert check (brego.io), which compares the advertised price with estimated dealer and auction prices.

If the difference is implausible, it recommends caution and – crucially – not to buy without seeing. Most such scams have the car somewhere inaccessible – in one case, a warehouse in Germany – but promise delivery by an allegedly reputable company on receipt of deposit or full payment.

In the German case, the delivery company turned out to be a bloke on a housing estate advertising himself with photos of someone else’s lorries.

To use Brego, which is teamed with CarDealer magazine, simply enter the registration number, mileage, price and

– if possible – the website address of the advertised vehicle. Brego instantly checks the details and shows any previous advertising listings.

I tested it on a suspiciously cheap 2022 Land Rover Defender advertised on Facebook Marketplace for £18,600, with a mileage of 4,200. Brego recommended caution. The vehicle is genuine, having been sold by a reputable dealer last December for £74,950 with 1,850 miles, but was £40,149 under the estimated auction price and £49,713 under the dealer price. Posing as an interested punter, I learned that it is allegedly located on an industrial site near Newcastle, ready for shipping by a delivery company. It is being sold on behalf of a friend by someone calling himself a ‘representative dealer’ and is cheap because it was ‘bought at auction’. Tell that to the marines.

Even without the help of Brego, there are enough warning signs to alert all but the least wary. To start with, the price – if it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. Second, beware if it’s difficult or impossible for you to view it. Third, watch out if it’s being sold by someone on behalf of the owner. They’ll have a reason why they can’t scan you the V5/C and why the owner isn’t available to speak to you. Fourth, beware if you’re being asked to part with money upfront, even if to an alleged third party (which won’t be PayPal) that says they won’t pay the seller until you’re happy with the vehicle. Finally, see what they say when you offer to pay by credit card – they usually don’t like that because you can easily cancel it.

Despite all this, they get away with it so often, not only because of human gullibility but because we are easily mesmerised by the tempting morsel on offer – that Defender looked and sounded so good (as it doubtless is) that it fills your imagination and elbows your judgment aside.

If, despite all these warnings, you ever get that far, talk to someone else – anyone but the seller – before pressing the button.

But not all scams are new. Remember how we used to read about the ‘clocking’ of cars – disconnecting the speedo cable to manually turn back the mileage reading? Electronic systems were supposed to do away with that because you can’t manually alter them. True enough, but they can be clocked electronically by anyone with the right kit.

The best defence is to go to the DVLA website and check the MOT history of the vehicle, which records annual mileages. If in doubt, walk away.