Online Vehicle Sale Fraud

The FBI warns consumers that criminal perpetrators may post fraudulent online classified advertisements offering vehicles for sale that are not, nor have ever been, in their possession.

The fake advertisements usually include photos matching the description of the vehicle and a phone number or e-mail address to contact the supposed seller. Once contact is established, the criminal sends the intended buyer additional photos along with an explanation for the discounted price and the urgency of the transaction. Common reasons provided include:

  • The seller is moving or being deployed by the military.
  • The seller received the vehicle as part of a divorce settlement.
  • The vehicle belonged to a relative who has died.

The criminal makes the fraud appear legitimate by deceptively claiming partnership with a reputable company, such as eBay, and assuring that the transaction will occur through the third party’s buyer protection program. They may go so far as to send a fraudulent toll-free number that impersonates the third party. The buyer is told to purchase prepaid gift cards in the sale amount and to share the card codes with the criminal, who then notifies the buyer they will be receiving the vehicle in a number of days. After the transaction is complete, the criminal typically ignores all follow-up calls, text messages, or e-mails from the buyer or may demand additional payments. In the end, the vehicle is not delivered and the buyer is never able to recuperate their losses.

Tips for Avoiding Fraudulent Online Vehicle Sales:

  • If it appears too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Use the Internet to research the advertised item and the seller’s name, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, and other unique identifiers.
  • Use the Internet to research the company’s contact information and its shipping and payment policies before completing a transaction. Ensure the legitimacy of the contact information and that the company accepts the requested payment option.
  • Avoid sellers who refuse to meet in person, or who refuse to allow the buyer to physically inspect the vehicle before the purchase.
  • Ask for the vehicle’s VIN, license plate (if possible), and the name of the individual to whom the car is currently registered.
  • Criminals take extra effort to disguise themselves and may have recognizable words in their e-mail name or domain. If you are suspicious or unsure about an e-mail that claims to be from a legitimate business, locate the business online and contact them directly.

If you believe you’ve been a victim of this scam, please file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at

View related IC3 public service announcement