SCAMMERS are conning drivers into buying second-hand cars that have already been written off.
Motorists have been warned of several simple techniques used to fool buyers into walking away with the keys to vehicles unsafe for the roads.
These Category C, or "Cat C", cars are written off by insurance companies following an accident, flood or fire damage as the cost of repair outweighs the value.
In most cases, they end up being sold at auction to traders and garages who can complete the work at trade prices.
There is usually no issue if the repairs are carried out to a high standard, but some buyers are falling victim to unscrupulous sellers who have completed sub-par fixes.
While motor traders and dealerships must disclose whether a vehicle has been written off, private sellers are not obligated to do so.
This means some buyers are unknowingly buying a written off vehicle that is potentially dangerous for the road, making their insurance invalid.
Craig, from Newcastle, experienced the scam first-hand.
The 30-year-old said: "I first found the car when looking for a fairly cheap run-around to quickly replace my old car, after it failed its MOT.
"It was on Gumtree and looked to be in good condition and reasonably well maintained."
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But a few months after purchasing, the digital marketing manager made the horrifying realisation he had bought a seriously unsafe car.
"The car had previously been written off as a Category C insurance write-off and had undergone some questionable repairs before I bought it.
"I only found out when curiosity got the better of me and I paid for an HPI check, where it came back instantly as a write-off.
"It was scary. The vehicle was likely unsafe to drive; there could have been issues that might have caused an accident.
"Likewise, my insurance may have been void, as the previous write-off status had not been disclosed to the provider."
And terrifyingly, Craig was likely not the only one to fall for this scam.
He was subsequently contacted by Trading Standards as part of its investigation into the seller, who is believed to have scammed others "multiple times before".
Looking back, Craig, who lost £1,652 through the scam, can now see some of the red flags he missed during the sale.
"In hindsight, he seemed to be hurrying me and looking to get a decision straight away," he said.
"When I bought the car, I transferred a bank payment that was flagged by the bank.
"It ended up taking 45 minutes to resolve before I was able to pay for it.
"The seller also hand-wrote a receipt, which stated 'bought as seen' and had me sign a copy for him.
"Another thing was that the vehicle had previously had private plates – I guess making it more difficult to do a check in the first place."
To ensure no-one else falls victim like Craig, seller Bristol Street Motors has shared its six top tips to avoid scammers when buying a car.
1. History check
Before committing to buying a vehicle, it is always wise to thoroughly check its history.
This can be done for free online by searching its details with the DVLA – though you will need to ask the seller for the registration number, MOT test number and mileage.
The government also has an MOT history checker, which you just need a number plate to use.
When buying from a private seller, it can be a good idea to pay for a private history check too.
This costs around £20 and will reveal any serious issues, such as if it has been stolen, written off, or has outstanding finance.
2. View in person
Some scammers list cars for sale that they don't actually own.
This is most common on marketplace sites just as Gumtree or Facebook where sellers will copy an advert from an existing listing and offer a good mileage at a slightly cheaper price.
They will encourage you to pay for the vehicle – or at least send a deposit to hold it – without seeing it first.
Once they have your details, they can take cash from your account and you will never see the car.
So it is vital to view a car in person before you agree to buy it.
And always be wary of elaborate excuses as to why you can't so you don't fall victim to a virtual vehicle scam.
3. Second opinion
Once you have booked in a viewing, consider taking a friend or family member with you.
Some private sellers can try to pressure you into making a decision before you have fully considered your options and made up your mind.
Having a second opinion from someone you trust could mean they spot something you haven't.
4. Test drive
Taking a car out for a test drive is really the only way to ensure it is in good working order.
It is also the only way to tell whether it is the right vehicle for you.
If you can, drive for around 15 minutes on a variety of roads while listening out for any unsavoury sounds.
5. If in doubt, don't buy
Your gut instinct is a good marker of whether you should go ahead with something.
So put simply, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t buy it.
The used car market is booming, so you will likely be able to find the same model elsewhere that’s in a more genuine condition.
If buying from a private seller worries you or sounds too complicated, purchase from a reputable dealership instead.
Established dealers complete all the necessary checks on vehicles, giving you peace of mind that you aren't in for any nasty surprises.
6. Be cautious
From transferring ownership to securing insurance, there is a fair bit of admin involved in buying a car.
And all this paperwork makes you more likely to fall victim to a phishing scam.
Texts and emails claiming to be from the DVLA and insurance companies are common.
They usually imply there has been an issue with vehicle tax or cover and need users to enter their details to rectify the problem.
This can then lead to identity or monetary theft.
Remember to never click a suspicious link in a text message or email.
Also look out for signs that the mail might not be genuine, such as spelling mistakes or non-specific greetings like "dear customer".
SECOND-HAND CAR WARNING
An expert from Bristol Street Motors said: "Unfortunately, not disclosing a vehicle’s full history is a common type of scam that many car buyers fall victim to.
"It’s one that has considerable cost implications, as the true value of the vehicle is usually less than what the buyer pays, and once found, the issues will significantly impact its resale value.
"Should the issues render the car dangerous to drive, the cost could be even more significant, endangering the lives of both the driver and passengers.
"The private seller market is not regulated like motor traders are, so some sellers are still fooling buyers.
"Buyers must be vigilant when shopping for a new vehicle, especially in the coming months when new car registrations will see an influx of used vehicles to the market."
Here are five questions you must ask when buying a second-hand car to avoid being ripped off.
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