Buying car online scams include fraudulent auto history searches

Selling a car online these days is hard enough. But now sellers have to be careful with fraudulent auto title search requests.

It is not uncommon for a potential buyer to ask to see a car history report. This is the basis for a new scam being reported in the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker.

Scammers are tricking car sellers to purchase a car title history search through scam websites.

The scam works this way

The con artist pretends to be interested in purchasing a car after seeing a car seller’s advertisement on a local website. The scammer asks for a vehicle title search report on the vehicle identification number (VIN). But the scammer asks the seller to buy one from an unfamiliar website.

The website turns out to be a way to simply steal the cost of a history report from an unsuspecting seller. Or the website could be a way to steal personal identities by capturing personal information such as driver’s license, address, or credit card information. Another possibility is that the website is designed to download malware or viruses to the seller’s computer.

How to Avoid This Car Selling Scam
If a potential buyer asks you to purchase something from a specific website as a condition for selling your car, be alert. While a potential buyer may want a car history report prior purchasing your vehicle, the BBB suggests selecting the site yourself.

In the United States, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), a division of the Department of Justice, provides a list of approved providers on their website, vehicle

From the NMVTIS website:

The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) is an electronic system that provides consumers with valuable information about a vehicle’s condition and history. Prior to purchasing a vehicle, NMVTIS allows consumers to find information on the vehicle’s title, most recent odometer reading, brand history, and, in some cases, historical theft data.

A “brand” is a descriptive label that states assign to a vehicle to identify the vehicle’s current or prior condition, such as “junk,” “salvage,” “flood,” or another designation. By capturing into one system specific information from multiple entities (state motor vehicle titling agencies, automobile recyclers, junk and salvage yards, and insurance carriers), NMVTIS offers states and consumers protection from title fraud, offers detection of stolen vehicles from being retitled, and makes it more difficult for criminals to use stolen vehicles for criminal purposes.

National Motor Vehicle Title Information System consumer information
The following information is available through NMVTIS:

  • Information from a vehicle’s current title
  • Information about the condition status of the vehicle, such as whether it’s been classified as “junk,” “salvage” or “flood”
  • The latest reported odometer reading

For Canadian consumers, the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the national insurance industry association, provides vehicle history reports.

Scams to avoid when selling your vehicle:

Selling your vehicle online may help you fetch a higher asking price. Unfortunately, sellers are often targets for scams. In addition to the vehicle history report scam, watch out for these common scam warning signs:

  • Check or money order sent for more than the price of the vehicle. The buyer requests that you ship the car or truck and keep the extra amount.
  • Checks or money orders should be confirmed as legitimate before the vehicle is delivered. The BBB has information about fake check scams at
  • Buyer offers to make full payment without even seeing the vehicle.
  • Buyer offers to pay through eBay’s Vehicle Purchase Protection program, when buying the vehicle through another website. This is considered fraud by eBay. eBay says their Vehicle Purchase Protection covers only certain vehicle transactions that are completed on

To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker.

To learn how to protect yourself, go to “10 Steps to Avoid Scams.”

I appreciate any and all comments about selling car online scams or your experience with selling your vehicle online. Please fill in and submit the form below.

4 Thoughts to “Selling Car Online Scams – Fraudulent Auto Title Search”

  1. Larry

    Hi Glenn,
    Internet car selling scams that’s new to me, seems like scammers always find away.
    The National Motor Vehicles Title information system seems the safest way to go.
    Scams to avoid when selling your vehicle are all good warning signs.
    Did you write this article because you know someone who has been scammed online selling or buying a vehicle?
    Have you ever been scammed online buying or selling a vehicle?

    1. Glen

      Hi Larry, scammers are getting very creative. It goes to show that any event or transaction online that involves money, scammers are bound to be there. I personally have not seen this scam. But with people doing more and more online, this is something to be aware. 

  2. JeffWA

    Hi Glen, It’s truly a shame that people, really throughout the course of human beings inhabiting this planet, feel the need to try and deceive, (scam) other individuals.

    It comes as no surprise as stated in your excellent article that dishonest people look to play a con game in the auto selling world.

    Your example of a scammer requesting that the seller of a car purchase, (from a bogus site) the title search of that vehicle’s VIN. Unfortunately being the victim of past scams, (online business ventures) I have learned to detect the rotten smell of people trying to pull of pranks like this one mentioned in your article. However, many people not having the experience of being ripped off might easily fall for such a scam.

    It’s always best to perform thorough research on anything nowadays. That includes the process of selling or even purchasing a vehicle.

    You provided great info in aiding readers on how to perform the necessary research prior to getting involved in car selling. You brought up reputable sites that everyone should go to during the course of their investigating that person, truly a stranger, who might have a dishonest interest in his/her vehicle.

    The BBB of course as part of their philosophy dedicates itself to informing innocent people about disreputable individuals who through calculating and deceitful methods look to steal something that does not belong to them.

    A highly useful article that you took the time to first research and then write, Glen on the subject of buying/selling vehicles!


    1. Glen

      Thanks for commenting, Jeff. I appreciate you taking the time to do so. Sometimes it really makes me wonder why a person would spend so much time setting up and scamming people when they could set up a legitimate business in the same amount of time.

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