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Scam Alert

Trading Standards Warns Consumers about Car-Selling Scam – 28/05/2009

Trading Standards is warning consumers about vehicle matching scams, which cost Northern Ireland consumers thousands of pounds every year.

Vehicle matching scams work by promising to match consumers who are selling their cars, with definite buyers. Typically, the seller is cold-called by telephone, having placed an advertisement in a magazine, website or newspaper.

The seller is assured that a buyer exists for the vehicle which they are selling, however, it is a condition that they pay a ‘matcher’s fee’ up front, before the sale is completed.

During its investigations into this scam, Trading Standards Service (TSS) has found that in many cases, there is no buyer, the contract with the vehicle matcher cannot be cancelled and any money paid is lost.

Last year, over 40 private sellers of second-hand vehicles complained to Domain Scams, the consumer helpline of TSS. These complainants lost between £80 and £99 each.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has co-ordinated the sharing of intelligence between a range of enforcement agencies to target action against traders engaged in unfair commercial practices. The OFT has also provided enforcement assistance by organising a day of action with the police, GB local authorities, TSS and consumer bodies, to crack down on the car matching scammers.

The OFT is also working with online and print motoring publications who are members of the Vehicle Safe Trading Advisory Group – including Autotrader, Exchange and Mart, eBay, Pistonheads and Motors.co.uk. The aim of this is to put in place clearer, more prominent warnings for consumers as soon as they put their cars up for sale. The UK European Consumer Centre, European Consumer Centre, Dublin, and Which? magazine are also supporting the campaign.

Damien Doherty, Trading Standards Area Inspector, said: “The time is up for rogue traders who attempt to cheat sellers with false promises of a guaranteed buyer for their cars. We are working with the industry and enforcement partners across the UK to crack down on scammers who are preying on consumers, particularly during the current economic downturn.

“High pressure selling, alongside cold-calling, makes this a very successful scam and often leaves the consumer with very little chance of getting redress. While Domain Scams received 40 calls last year about such scams, we believe the true number of victims could be much higher.”

Damien continued by offering advice on how consumers can help avoid being scammed.

He said: “Consumers need to be alert – stop, think and be sceptical if they are cold called or are asked for money in advance. It is important that credit or debit card details are never given out to strangers.

“Private car sellers must beware of promises that are made which suggest that there are immediate buyers for a car, that finance has already been arranged for potential buyers or that buyers are willing to pay the asking price or more. Be cautious if there are buyers ready to view a car immediately or that a refund will be offered should the car not sell.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do not be pressured into anything and if in doubt about a particular telephone call, hang up.”

If you think you have been the victim of a vehicle matching scam, or you suspect a scam, call Domain Scams for clear, practical consumer advice on tel: 0845 600 62 62 / 028 9025 3900 or log on to www.domainscams.co.uk

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