Trading Standards Warn of £3million Bogus Car Buyer Scam

Highland Council’s Trading Standards team is participating in an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) campaign to warn consumers about bogus car buyer scams which cost UK consumers nearly £3 million every year.

Bogus car buyer scams, which are sometimes referred to as “vehicle matching scams”, target consumers selling cars and falsely promise to match them with definite buyers.

Typically the seller is cold-called by phone once they have placed an advert in a magazine, on a website or in a newspaper. They are promised that a buyer exists for their vehicle but are required to pay a fee up front before the deal will go ahead. However in many cases there is no buyer, the contract with the vehicle matcher cannot be cancelled, and any money paid is lost.

Alistair Thomson, The Highland Council’s Head of Environmental Health and Trading Standards, said: “Late last year my officers noticed that the number of complaints we were receiving about these vehicle matching scams was on the rise.  Further analysis showed that some of these scammers were targeting consumers who had placed car adverts in one of the popular local free ads papers.  We approached the publisher of the paper concerned and gained their support in placing a warning notice in the publication advising consumers to watch out for these scams.

He added: “This latest OFT initiative builds on our previous efforts and highlights just how much money these fraudsters are making with the typical victim losing just under a £100. I would urge anyone who has been caught out by one of these scams to contact Trading Standards. Getting your money back may be difficult, but we need information on individual cases to share with our regulatory partners to stop these fraudsters.”

The scammers generally ask for a fee of just under £100.  This is likely to be deliberate as these scammers will be aware that consumers are protected by their credit card companies for transactions above £100 [See www.tinyurl.com/equal-liability ] and by keeping the fee just below this figure consumers will lose out on this protection.

The OFT estimate that these scams are costing UK consumers £3 million per year.  Most of the scams companies, although operating nationwide are based in South East England and there have been some successful prosecutions but it appears as soon as one company is closed another copy cat company is created.

Advice from the OFT and Highland Council’s Trading Standards on vehicle matching scams is as follows:

When you place a car ad, someone may cold call you claiming to have an immediate buyer for your car. They may ask for an up-front fee which they say is refundable if your car isn't sold.  In many cases the promised buyers do not materialise and neither does the promised refund.

If someone calls you:

• Don't feel pressured into anything.

• Don't give your credit or debit card details to people you don't know.

Source: www.direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizensandrights/Consumerrights/index.htm

If you think you have been a victim of this scam call Consumer Direct Scotland for advice on 08454 040506.  Consumer Direct will pass on details to Highland Council Trading Standards.  Alternatively consumers can visit or write to The Highland Council, Trading Standards, 38 Harbour Road, Inverness IV1 1UF 

28 May 2009
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