Vehicle History Report Scam: If You’re Selling, Listen Up

If a potential buyer asks a car seller to visit a specific and unfamiliar website in order to obtain a vehicle history report, it's likely a scam.

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Vehicle history or title report scams ask you who are the seller to provide a report from a specific and unknown website that's likely owned by the seller.
Image via Krisanapong Detraphiphat/Getty Images

Since at least 2018, scammers have targeted online car sellers with what has become known as a vehicle history report scam. If you’re looking to sell a car in the near future, listen up.

Here’s how the scam works. Pretend that you’re selling your car online, whether on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, AutoTrader, AutoNation, or any other well-known website. After your listing goes live, you receive a message from someone who sounds like an interested buyer. They tell you that they want to be sure they aren’t getting ripped off and request that you provide them with a vehicle history report. However, they will only accept the report from a specific website that you’ve never heard of. Even stranger, that website that they tell you to visit says it’s going to cost somewhere around $25 to obtain the report.

This is the vehicle history report scam. The potential buyer, who really is just scammer that has no interest in your vehicle, owns the website that they directed you to. Once you submit the $25 or other similar dollar amount through the website to purchase a report, whether through Paypal or other means, you’ll likely never hear from the scammer again.

In 2018, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission published an advisory titled, “Steering clear of vehicle history report scams.” At the time, the FTC referred to the vehicle history report scam as new and said that the scam websites often ended in the suffix .vin, rather than something more traditional like .com or .net. It’s possible that scammers chose this suffix in order to fool people into believing it had something to do with a vehicle identification number, which is also known as a VIN.

The FTC also provided the following guidance:

So, if you are selling a car online and someone asks you to get a car history report from a specific site, ask why and think twice. You may have no way of knowing who operates the site, especially if it’s one you’ve never heard of. It might be a ruse to get your personal information, including your credit card account number. It also could be a way for companies called “lead generators” to get information, which they sell to third parties for advertising and marketing purposes.

Your best bet: play it safe. Go to ftc.gov/usedcars for information on vehicle history reports, recall notices, and how to learn whether a car has been declared salvage. For example, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) operates vehiclehistory.gov, which lists NMVTIS-approved providers of vehicle history reports. Not all vehicle history reports are available through the NMVTIS website. Reports from other providers sometimes have additional information, like accident and repair history.

In addition to the FTC’s advisory, the U.S. Better Business Bureau also published guidance regarding the scam. We recommend both articles to readers who might be looking to sell a vehicle in the near future.

Note: Carfax also provides free vehicle history reports in some situations.

Sources:

BBB Serving Utah, et al. BBB Warning: Vehicle Title Scams. 8 Sept. 2020, https://www.bbb.org/article/news-releases/17576-bbb-tip-vehicle-title-scam.
 
“How Can I Get Free CARFAX Vehicle History Reports?” CARFAX Customer Support Center, https://support.carfax.com/help/article/can-i-get-free-carfax-vehicle-history-reports.
 
Tressler, Colleen. “Steering Clear of Vehicle History Report Scams.” Consumer Advice, 19 Oct. 2018, https://consumer.ftc.gov/consumer-alerts/2018/10/steering-clear-vehicle-history-report-scams.
 
Wise, Andy. SCAM ALERT! Vehicle History Report Scam. YouTube, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNhHxBbN8dU.