Watch out for this COVID-19 used car scam

Have you checked out used-car prices lately? With supplies tight and demand high during the COVID-19 pandemic, used-vehicle prices are hitting an all-time high.

As a result, scammers are stepping up their game and targeting people who are searching for inexpensive cars online.

They’re offering phony used cars for sale online, with the pandemic as an excuse for not allowing you to take a test drive.

Used Honda Accord at a great price

Daisha Wallace needed a car to buy groceries and take her two young children to the doctor, so she started searching for cheap used cars on Craigslist, Facebook and various selling apps.

A 2008 Honda Accord listed for just $1,200 caught her eye.

“I’ve got two babies,” she said. “So I have to hurry up and get this car.”

She contacted the seller, who responded that the price was so low because she needed to unload the Accord fast.

“She said her son had passed away, and she needed to sell the car,” Wallace said. “But because of COVID-19, she didn’t want to do any actual in-person transactions.”

She wanted to handle the whole sale virtually, so there would be no risk of virus transmission. Slick.

The seller sent Wallace to an eBay Motors page, which promised full buyer’s protection and said it would handle payment and shipping.

The eBay page told her to buy eBay gift cards at the drugstore and reply with the card numbers. Wallace did that, reading off $1,200 worth of gift cards to the seller.

The seller immediately vanished.

“She stopped replying. I called her phone and she wasn’t answering anymore,” Wallace said.

How to protect yourself

This scam is so common it has a name: The eBay Motors scam. The pandemic just gave it a new twist, and now it may seem reasonable for the seller not to allow you to see the car before asking for money.

eBay does not sell cars for people; nor does it offer a guarantee on used cars. It is a listing service that handles the transaction between a private buyer and seller.

The eBay Motors website and car photos were fake, stolen from a legitimate used-car ad.

To protect yourself:

  • Never purchase gift cards to pay a seller, as they are untraceable.
  • Beware used cars that are priced too low for that year and model (A 2008 sedan should cost $5,000-$9,000, not just $1,200).
  • Avoid used cars you can’t see in person, even if the seller uses the COVID pandemic as an excuse.

“It’s hard, making sure my daughter has Pampers and wipes now,” Wallace said. “I thought I was doing the right thing for my babies.”

Since eBay has no way to stop this scam, the site is not legally responsible for her loss.

Be very suspicious of any cheap used car, boat, or camper you can’t see in person, so you don’t waste your money.

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