Governor Cuomo Issues Consumer Alert to Car Buyers About the Dangers of Online Scams

Governor Cuomo issued a consumer alert advising New Yorkers to exercise caution when making used car purchases from private sellers over the internet following an increase in the number of complaints about online used car ...

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Albany, NY - September 16, 2015 - Governor Cuomo issued a consumer alert advising New Yorkers to exercise caution when making used car purchases from private sellers over the internet following an increase in the number of complaints about online used car scams received by New York State Department of Motor Vehicles investigators. Each year, these state investigators, working with other federal, state and local officials, recover as much as $1.5 million in stolen vehicles and parts purchased online.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Governor Cuomo. “Many of the protections afforded to consumers who buy from licensed dealers do not apply to private sales, making the Internet a target-rich environment for fraudsters. I advise all New Yorkers to know the facts and thoroughly research what you’re about to purchase in order to avoid becoming a victim of a scam.” 

State investigators receive an average of two dozen complaints per month from across the state, a majority of which are related to online scams. Such complaints led to the arrests of six individuals for engaging in fraudulent vehicle sales in the month of August alone.

The Department of Motor Vehicles has identified two common used car and online scams:

  • Individuals who conceal or alter vehicle ownership documents by covering “brands” on vehicle titles or altering odometer information to conceal alterations to the odometer. Scammers do this to increase the value of the vehicle at the point of sale.
  • Individuals who sell stolen cars post them online using ads that state they "need quick cash" or are selling the vehicle "before a divorse," or similar "fir sale" situations. Typically the cars are offered for far below market value or as "cash only" sales, and the titles are counterfeit or belong to a different vehicle

This summer, investigators encountered nearly 20 victims of these types of scams. Individuals arrested in these cases can face criminal charges for forgery, criminal impersonation, criminal possession of stolen property and other felonies.

New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Executive Deputy Commissioner Terri Egan said, “A vehicle purchase is typically one of the largest consumer purchases that an individual makes, so buyers should take some extra time to make sure the car they are buying is a car that can be sold legitimately. Buyers should consider the red flags. If cars are priced very low, if sellers can’t meet you in person or want cash only, and if postings are missing personal information for sellers, take extra caution. I urge everyone to be familiar with the risks of buying cars online.”

Used car scams happen across the state, and are not unique to the internet; scams can happen even if the car is being sold in front of a seller’s house or by a used car dealer. While purchasing a vehicle from a private seller over the internet may be cheaper, there are disadvantages to buying cars online. Private sellers rarely offer a warranty, and if a buyer has a complaint about the vehicle or purchase, they are typically left to resolve the problem with, or take legal action against, the seller. By contrast, the Used Car Lemon Law requires dealers to give consumers a written warranty under which dealers must repair, free of charge, any defect in covered parts.

There are several precautions New Yorkers can take to protect themselves against scammers. When buying a used car online:

  • Be wary of cars that may have been involved in a serious crash. Look for differing colors or signs of body damage, especially in the engine compartment or trunk of the car. Start the car and make sure the airbag and other warning lights come on and then off to ensure the systems are operating correctly.
  • Check for flood damage and evidence that a vehicle has been damaged by a natural disaster. If the vehicle has been exposed to water, over time, parts of the car will start corroding. Check under the carpets, dashboard, and elsewhere for signs of rust or mold
  • Have the car examined by a qualified mechanic to ensure that the car is safe. 
  • Don't pay with cash.
  • Make sure that you receive acceptable proof of ownership. If you are purchasing a vehicle in New York State, be cautious if the proof of ownership is out of state title or the prior owner listed is different than the person selling you the vehicle.
  • If purchasing a car with a New York State title, the vehicle should not have registration stickers or inspection stickers from another jurisdiction on it.
  • Become familiar with the Department Motor Vehicle’s requirements for registering and issuing title certificates for used cars. 
  • If available, check the vehicle identification number (VIN) against the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s free VINCheck service. A link to this free service is available on the Department Motor Vehicle’s webpage. This will assist in determining if a vehicle has been reported as stolen, but not recovered, or has been reported as a salvage vehicle by coopering National Insurance Crime Bureau member insurance companies.
  • Check the VIN with a service that will conduct a complete vehicle history such as CARFAX or NMVTIS.

For more information about the Department of Motor Vehicles, visit here.