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Watch out for these common scams when buying a used car

Used cars on car lot

With used car prices out of reach for many buyers, many people are looking for cheaper cars offered on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist and other sites.

The problem, though, is that you may have no way of knowing where that car really came from, or what issues you may discover after buying it.

In Luciano Ciambelli’s case, all that is left of the car he recently bought is the spare set of keys, after police towed away his black Honda Civic.

Officers told him the vehicle he recently purchased was really a stolen car.

“The police pulled me over,” he said, “and the officer said, ‘You didn’t do anything wrong, but you got a stolen car.”

Granddaughter Amy Elam says they had just bought it from a Facebook seller for a few thousand dollars.

“They gave me the title and registration,” she said.

But the Honda had been reported stolen by the real owner, and its selling title was apparently forged.

Odometer Rollbacks, Flood Cars Expected This Year

There are many pitfalls to watch out for when buying from a private seller, from ending up with a stolen car to a rolled-back odometer.

Odometer fraud used to only involve the old plastic analog odometers with gears.

But Emilie Voss of Carfax¬†says odometer fraud is a serious problem again, telling us “people don’t know that a digital odometer on late model vehicles can be rolled back.”

She said devices now sold on the black market can roll them back, and that with “a simple click of a button, in just a few seconds, you will see it go from 150 thousand miles to just 50 thousand miles.”

One more thing to worry about: flooded cars from storms like last year’s Hurricane Ian making their way north.

How to Protect Yourself

If you’re shopping for a used car, Melanie McGovern with the Better Business Bureau says it is essential to do your homework and see the car in person.

“You can drive it, you can see it, you can get a Carfax report and you can check the VIN,” she said.

McGovern says to walk away if the seller won’t let you see it in person before purchase, such as demanding payment before you see the car.

She says an inspection is so important to avoid buying someone else’s lemon.

And she says if you’re not comfortable inspecting a vehicle by yourself, “bring somebody along who does know these things.”

The BBB says the biggest red flag of all is a very low price, out of the normal range for similar cars from that year.

Amy Elam and her grandfather are now out $4,000.

We contacted the police department that hauled away the car, but they said they cannot return it or get Ciambelli his money back from a Facebook seller who is now long gone.

“It’s crazy, it’s insane,” Elam said, “because we are out all this money.”

A Carfax report and inspection might have raised red flags about the car’s history, and prevented all their heartache.

That way you don’t waste your money.

About the Author
John Matarese

John's goal is to help as many TV viewers as possible save money, avoid bad deals, know a rip-off when one comes their way, and be educated consumers. His informative weekly consumer segment "Don't Waste Your Money" now airs on 45 TV stations from San Diego to Tampa to Houston and Cincinnati. More.