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Online Vehicle Buying Fraud Cases on the Rise

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ANKENY, Iowa – If you’re dreaming of that next vehicle purchase, online car shopping may be the way to go.

You can compare dozens of makes and models. You can find the best prices and land exactly what you’ve been looking for. But along the way shoppers will also find scammers looking to take advantage of your purchase.

After seeing a record number of fraud complaints the Iowa Department of Transportation has a few tips and tricks to make the purchase a success.

“The fraud issues we are seeing today are probably the largest we’ve ever seen in the state of Iowa,” said Michael Athers, Interim Director Iowa Department of Transportation Bureau of Investigation & Identity Protection.

Athers and his team are offering the following tips to prevent you from getting conned.

Take your time. For many people, buying a vehicle is the second largest investment next to buying a home. You want to make smart decisions when shopping online.

Do your homework. Whether you are researching a specific make and model of vehicle or a certain dealer, read the customer reviews and expert ratings.

Buy from a reputable dealer. Most reputable dealers will provide you with documentation to certify the authenticity of the vehicle title and disclose previous damage. It’s unfortunate, but criminals may create fake vehicle dealer sales websites to lure customers to send money toward the purchase of a vehicle.

If buying from a private party, make sure the vehicle has legitimate documentation. Most consumers are not familiar with what legitimate vehicle ownership documents look like or how to research a vehicle’s history. It’s important to learn everything you can about the vehicle prior to signing a purchase agreement, making a payment for part or all of the vehicle, and taking possession of the vehicle.

There are several websites that offer individualized reports on vehicles. These reports can provide valuable insight into a vehicle’s ownership and odometer history. Examine all of the details contained in these reports, including dates, mileage, title numbers, and vehicle title brands. There is a minimal cost associated with the use of these websites, but a little time and money spent ahead of time can save you from losing thousands later.

Extreme caution should be taken when purchasing a vehicle over the internet or outside of the United States. For vehicles purchased outside the United States there is less vehicle history information available, the vehicle may not meet United States safety and emission standards, and vehicle ownership documents may be subject to counterfeiting. Another challenge with vehicle purchases outside of the United States is you may have little, if any, recourse if the vehicle turns out to be stolen or has had an odometer rollback.

If something doesn’t look or feel right in your research, ask questions and obtain more information from the seller. If you are still concerned about the validity of the vehicle, walk away from the deal. Remember: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

If you have questions regarding buying or selling a vehicle, the following Iowa DOT website has information to assist you:

If you feel you have purchased a vehicle that may have an odometer roll back or the vehicle’s identification number (VIN) has been tampered with, please contact the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Investigation & Identity Protection at or 515-237-3050.