As used-car demand continues online car listing scams soar, says ACCC

The strength of the second-hand car market, boosted by the impact of the global pandemic in 2020, has translated into a higher number of Australians being ripped-off by vehicle scams in the first quarter of 2021.

A reported $288,000 has been lost to fake online listings in Q1 according to Scamwatch, higher than the entire amount reported during the 2019 calendar year.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), most of the reports came from scammers posting fake listings for in-demand cars, listing them below market value, and seeking payment in advance. Sites that these scams frequently popped up on include Facebook Marketplace, Autotrader, Carsales, CarsGuide and Gumtree.

ACCC deputy chair, Delia Rickard, said: “As second-hand car sales increased during the pandemic, unfortunately so did vehicle scams. If current trends continue, Australians could lose much more to vehicle scams this year than the $1 million lost in 2020.

“We want to raise awareness of these scams to reduce the number of people who may be vulnerable to them.”

The ACCC highlighted that a common new type of scam advertisement has been manifesting in the form of a scammer pretending to be defence personnel, wanting to sell their vehicle before deployment. This technique was used in order to create a sense of urgency and explain the low price of the listing.

97% of reports this year were about scammers pretending to be in the navy, army, airforce or Department of Defence.

Rickard added: “A price that is too good to be true should be a warning sign for potential buyers. If a classified ad offers a vehicle at a very low price, the ad might not be legitimate.

“For example, one Scamwatch report noted a listing that advertised a car for nearly $10,000 below its market value to entice buyers looking for a bargain.”

Rickard also noted that consumers should look out for posters seeking payment via a third party website, eBay, direct bank transfer or international money transfer.

20% of these used car listing scams have also involved consumers losing personal information as well as money.

“If the seller claims to be unavailable and insists on payment before meeting the buyer or allowing them to pick up their new car, this should raise suspicions.

“It is relatively common for scammers to claim that they are travelling or moving away to avoid meeting buyers before payment.”

In a statement given to Mumbrella, a spokesperson for the Autotrader Group (which includes Gumtree, CarsGuide and Autotrader), said: “The safety and security of our community across our platforms – Autotrader, Gumtree Cars and CarsGuide – is a top priority. We take any form of online scam seriously.

The spokesperson explained safeguards, including a ‘Buy & Sell Safely’ guide that is linked on every vehicle listing, are in place to “ensure our users have a safe and successful experience”.

In addition, there are “help and security pages across CarsGuide, Autotrader and Gumtree with advice on how to remain vigilant when using an online marketplace; and a ‘Report Ad’ function on every listing which allows users to report any ad that seems suspicious.

“Additionally, Gumtree remains Australia’s favourite local marketplace with a 99% safe trading success rate on that platform.

“As with any online marketplace, we rely on our user’s feedback to keep the platforms safe and we strongly encourage our engaged communities to report any concerning listings believed to be unlawful in any way.

“Awareness is a critical step in identifying scammers online and that’s why we’re pleased to support the ACCC in their efforts to raise awareness and provide information to support Australians looking to buy or sell a second-hand vehicle online.”


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