Buying a car online can help you avoid a lot of the headaches associated with buying a car from a traditional brick-and-mortar dealership. Instead of enduring high-pressure, face-to-face sales tactics often used by car sales staff, car buyers can negotiate and arrive at a deal over email, and walking away from a deal is as simple as not answering an email.

But online car shopping can entail some serious risk. The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership of the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, released a briefing on fraud associated with online car buying.

It highlights a number of tactics online scammers are using to swindle car buyers:

  • The motivated seller — A scammer posts a car at a below-market price, posing as military personnel or an employee who’s being relocated by their company. When buyers want to inspect the car in person, they claim they’re too busy or that the car is in another location because of their imminent move, convincing seller to transfer them money for a car that doesn’t actually exist.
  • Brand hijacking — Criminals claim “buyers” of their nonexistent cars will be protected by a legitimate program offered by a real company, such as eBay Motors’ Vehicle Protection Plan.
  • Live chats — A scammer posing as a company representative reassures a prospective victim over a live chat.
  • Payment bait and switch — Scammers demand to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram rather than in person via check or through a legitimate auction house like eBay.

Just because there are scammers out there doesn’t mean car buyers should avoid looking for a car on the Internet altogether. But if you see any sign of the behaviors outlined above, you probably want to shut the deal down.

What do you think? Would you buy a car online?

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