Fake car dealer website scam

Criminals are advertising secondhand cars for sale at bargain prices, and asking for payment up front – but the cars don’t exist...

Used cars for sale

Online scammers are setting up car sales websites for dealerships that are purportedly in Scotland to con unsuspecting buyers in London and the Home Counties out of thousands of pounds by paying for the cars over the phone or online without seeing them. 

The fake dealer websites are populated with cars for sale to make them look genuine and these are advertised on social media outlets, targeting people in England because they are unlikely to travel hundreds of miles to view cars. When people call to enquire about the cars, the conmen try to get them to pay for them up front, promising to deliver the car once payment has been made, but the cars are never delivered and the money is not refunded. 

Two fake websites have been spotted and challenged by Car Dealer magazine in the past six weeks. The most recent is a company called Miller Car Sales Ltd, allegedly based in Larbert, Scotland. It is advertising a number of second-hand cars at prices that are significantly lower than their actual market value. 

Volvo XC90 front cornering

Cars offered at half price

What Car? checked the Miller Car Sales website and found 79 used cars for sale. A 2020 Volvo XC90 2.0 Inscription Pro with 20,000 miles is on the site for £18,400, which is just over £24,000 (56%) less than the price of £42,450 you’d expect to pay from a dealer. Another car, a 2021 Vauxhall Mokka-e SRi Nav Premium with 3300 miles, is on the site for just £14,450, but a What Car? Valuation reveals the dealer price should be £28,500, so the asking price is around half what it should be. 

Car Dealer investigated Miller Car Sales by making checks with local businesses, which confirmed there was no showroom with that name in the location specified on the website. A representative of the Scottish Motor Trade Association (SMTA) also visited the address on Car Dealer’s behalf and found no showroom by the name of Millers Car Sales.

So, James Baggott, editor-in-chief of Car Dealer, called Miller Car Sales enquiring about a car that was for sale. When he challenged the company about the address of the showroom, saying he had visited the location and not found the dealership, the person on the other end of the phone hung up. 

Baggott believes he was speaking to the same person he had talked to two weeks earlier at another fake company, also purportedly based in Scotland, called AD Car Sales. That company was shut down by the authorities after Car Dealer reported it to them, but Baggott believes the criminals have swiftly created Miller Car Sales to continue the scam.

Vauxhall Mokka-e 2021 front

Fake websites are a growing problem

Sandy Burgess, chief executive of the Scottish Motor Trade Association, said: “This type of crime does appear to be a growing problem. It is a worrying trend and the police often struggle to track the money. It has usually bounced around the world by the time they investigate the cons.”

Burgess said he fears that consumers have grown increasingly comfortable with buying used cars online since the Covid pandemic, and that means they are more likely to let their guard down. 

“People think they will be protected by distance selling regulations, and they are when buying from reputable dealers, but not from conmen,” he said.

“‘We have hundreds of legitimate car dealers as members here in Scotland, many of whom offer remote sales all over the UK with tremendous outcomes for the buyers. The issue is the whole industry gets tarred with this brush. We need to remember these are not dodgy car dealers – these are cyber-criminals.”

Police Scotland has confirmed to Car Dealer that there is an ongoing investigation into Miller Car Sales. 

Earlier in 2022, the BBC investigated a similar scam in which criminals had cloned a genuine car dealership in Scotland and conned buyers out of thousands of pounds. That site, called Auto-Promotions, has been shut down and hasn't resurfaced under a different name. 

10 ways to bag a used car bargain in 2019

What Car says...

In order not to become a victim of this type of crime, What Car? advises used car buyers to be wary of car deals that look too good to be true. 

The first thing you can do is put the car’s registration into What Car?’s online valuation tool; if it looks extremely cheap, ask a lot of questions or find a different vehicle. 

It's also important to do your homework and heed any warning signs that the website or car advertised might not be real:

* Is the photography on the site taken at a consistent location?
* Do the photos and profiles of the staff look credible?
* Does the dealership have any reviews online? 
* When you call the dealership, does the person who answers the phone give their name and address?
* Is the address actually a car dealership that you can see when you look on Google Maps Street View?

Finally, always think very carefully about paying a deposit before you go to see the car. It’s okay for major retail chains to ask for a holding deposit, but unless you are asking them to hold the car for a long time, there’s very little reason for a smaller dealer to request one. If they do, it’s a clear sign to be careful.

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