Vehicle history request could be a prelude to a scam: Internet Scambusters #844
Requesting a vehicle history report when buying a car is nothing unusual. In fact, it's a wise move.
But what if you're a seller and the buyer asks for a report from an agency you've never heard of?
It could be a money-making scam, as we report in this week's issue. But we'll also tell you how to avoid it.
Let's get started...
Selling Your Car? Don't Fall for This Vehicle History Scam
Suppose you were selling your car online and a potential buyer asks for a vehicle history report.
Sounds sensible enough, doesn't it? In fact, it sounds like this would-be buyer is serious about your vehicle.
But, if this "buyer" asks for a car history report from a specific website that you're not familiar with, watch out! It could be a scam.
If it is, what will happen next is that the site, which does indeed look like one of the real vehicle-check pages, asks you to pay a fee, usually by credit card.
Plus, you may note that the site address ends in ".VIN" (note the dot before the letters), which (without the dot) is the same as the abbreviation used for "vehicle identification number," adding a layer of seeming authenticity to the request.
After all, most auto history checks are actually based on a vehicle's VIN.
But it turns out that sites that end in ".VIN" are actually intended to be used by people and firms in the wine industry -- "vin" is the French word for "wine."
It's a relatively new domain (address extension). But despite the best intentions of the people who set up and control domain names, anyone can actually purchase a ".VIN" extension.
So, it's no surprise that scammers have latched onto its rip-off possibilities.
As far as we've been able to establish, there are no genuine vehicle history reporting sites using this extension.
Furthermore, other tricksters simply use "VIN" (without the preceding dot) somewhere else in their address.
Again, this makes it seem genuine, but some of these site operators either take your money and run or they overcharge and then buy the report from one of the real car report agencies, pass it on to the seller, and pick up a handsome profit.
(Note, however, that there are also genuine agencies using "VIN" like VinAudit.)
What to Do
If a potential buyer of your car asks you to go to a site with "vin" in the address, or indeed any other name which they specifically request, be on the alert for a possible scam.
Your first response should be to ask why they want a report from this specific agency. A scammer would struggle to come up with a reasonable answer.
As the US Federal Trade Commission notes: "You may have no way of knowing who operates the site, especially if it's one you've never heard of. It might be a ruse to get your personal information, including your credit card account number.
"It also could be a way for companies called 'lead generators' to get information, which they sell to third parties for advertising and marketing purposes."
The real source of title and registration information about a car is the National Motor Vehicles Title Information System (NMVTIS), which you can reach through the US government's vehiclehistory.com site.
The site includes a list of report providers that have been approved by the NMVTIS. They all charge a fee from as little as $5. You can use one of these organizations whether you're a buyer or a seller.
Unfortunately, the FTC points out that not all vehicle history reports are available through NMVTIS. Some agencies also include information about servicing and repairs that they harvest from other sources including insurance companies and the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Reputable agencies that provide this additional information include Carfax, AutoCheck, VehcileHistory.com and VinAudit. (Note that Scambusters doesn't endorse specific companies -- we don't have the resources to investigate them.)
There are a couple of other things you can do to avoid a vehicle history scam.
First, you could go to one of the genuine agencies and purchase a report yourself. You might pay as little as $10 and up to $50 for a detailed report.
You can offer it as an incentive as part of your ad -- you're more likely to attract serious buyers that way -- and no scammer is likely to ask you for an alternative report.
Second, if you're thinking about using a vehicle history reporting company you don't know, then check out their reputation online. Just use their name and words like "complaint" or "scam" in a browser search to see if anyone else has encountered problems with them.
Know Your Score
One final point, on a different but related theme, if you're buying a car on credit, always know your credit score or arrange a loan from your bank before you visit a car lot.
Some disreputable dealers have been caught out wrongly claiming a buyer's credit score is too low for them to be worthy of a low-interest loan. They inflate the interest rate, which earns them a higher commission from the lender.
For further help, whether you're buying or selling, check out the FTC's used car guidance.
Alert of the Week
Sneaky scammers have taken to sending messages claiming to be from the US Postal Service (USPS) about a package awaiting collection.
Recipients have to click a link, which immediately flashes up a warning that their PC has been infected with a virus, which they must pay to have removed, using Google Play gift cards.
But USPS doesn't operate this way and they're certainly not in the virus removal business. Don't click links without checking the source first.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!