Cumbria’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC), Peter McCall, is warning Cumbrian residents to be vigilant against vehicle scams when purchasing a new motor.
Research commissioned in July 2023 by the Vehicle Safe Trading Advisory Group (VSTAG), the UK’s leading vehicle trading safety advisory body, highlighted that, at a time when average used car prices have increased over £4,000 in three years, and household finances are being squeezed, car and farming vehicle buyers are more at risk to scams and financial fraud in an effort 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.
Despite costs rising, demand for cars remains strong according to YouGov research conducted on behalf of VSTAG, with one in four (25%) consumers looking to purchase this year. But more than one in 10 (13%) 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.
The research found nearly one in two Brits (47%) are prepared to pay a seller directly from their bank account to gain a better price. Most fraudsters will try to convince buyers to transfer money before seeing the vehicle.
The PFCC is also urging the farming community to watch out for vehicle scams, with many farmers using the internet as the first port of call for farm vehicles and agricultural machinery, which can cost a significant amount of money.
PFCC Peter McCall, said: “Many of us rely on a personal vehicle to get to work, take our children to school, do food shops etc. and, especially in rural areas, they are a necessity to most.
“The cost-of-living crisis has meant that we are all watching what we spend and looking for bargains where possible. Unfortunately, this has allowed criminals to prey on people who are desperate for cheaper rates and scamming people out of their savings.
“I would urge anyone who is looking to buy a car online to see the car and test-drive it before any money is exchanged.
“Where possible, use a credit card to make the purchase as it provides buyers some protection, as the credit-card company may be able to help if there is a dispute or issue with the vehicle.
“Frauds are notoriously difficult to resolve as criminals can target anyone from anywhere in the world so prevention is our best method to avoid being scammed.
“If you have been a victim of fraud, I urge you to report it to 101 and Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.”
Commenting on behalf of VSTAG, Tony Neate, Chief Executive Officer of Get Safe Online, said: “Although vehicle buying and selling is as safe as any other purchase, VSTAG is concerned that the growing squeeze on 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 for farmers, agricultural machinery frequently costs many thousands of pounds. That’s why 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 – whether that is a car or farming machinery – 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.”
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 has 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.
Of those who are planning to buy a car this year, around a third (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. Although additional costs may be added, buying from a car retailer does protect buyers with the Consumer Rights Act, which provides cover should there be faults with the car.
VSTAG’s tips on how you can protect yourself from falling victim to scams:
- Payment advice – Never send money for a vehicle or machinery you haven’t seen. Don’t carry large amounts of cash.
- 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 complete the purchase.
- View before paying the full amount –We recommend researching the seller as well as their vehicle or machinery. 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.
- Always check that the price is in line with the market value – If the price of a vehicle or machinery 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 or other advertising media. If the vehicle or equipment is below market value, beware. Ask the seller questions about its valuation; there may be underlying reasons if it is underpriced.
- Take the vehicle for a test drive – Be sure to thoroughly inspect any vehicle or machinery you are looking to purchase, and take vehicles 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.
- 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, please visit: www.getsafeonline.org
 Auto Trader Retail Price Index https://plc.autotrader.co.uk/press-centre/auto-trader-retail-price-index/