Scammers are luring victims by impersonating defence personnel and saying they urgently need to sell their car because they’re about to be deployed.
The online posts often say they are in the navy, army or air force and have an in-demand car they’re willing to sell at well below the market value to lock in a quick sale.
Scammers ask for payment in advance but never deliver the vehicle, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says.
The ruse has been used in 97 per cent of car scams reported to the consumer watchdog in 2021.
The ACCC says the con seeks to create a sense of urgency with buyers, as well as explaining the low price and why buyers can’t inspect the car prior to payment.
Australians have already lost more than $288,000 to vehicle scams in the first quarter of the year, more than all losses reported to Scamwatch in 2020.
Vehicle scams are commonly seen on sites such as Facebook Marketplace, Autotrader, Car Sales, Cars Guide and Gumtree.
“As second-hand car sales increased during the pandemic, unfortunately so did vehicle scams,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said on Tuesday.
If the trend continues, Australians could lose much more to vehicle scams this year than the $1 million lost in 2020, she said.
“A price that is too good to be true should be a warning sign for potential buyers,” Ms Rickard said.
Vehicle scammers often seek payment via a third party website.
A large number of reports to Scamwatch mentioned the use of escrow agents, a third party who is supposed to ‘hold’ the money from the buyer until goods are received, before releasing the funds to the seller.
Other commonly requested payment methods include eBay, direct bank transfer or international money transfers.
“Always try to inspect the vehicle before purchase and avoid unusual payment methods. If you have any doubts, do not go ahead with the deal,” Ms Rickard said.
Around 20 per cent of consumers who reported vehicle scams have also lost personal information, after providing their address, phone number and copies of their driver’s licence to the scammer.
The ACCC warns people never to provide personal details to someone they have met only online.