There are many better and safer ways to buy and sell a classic car, but eBay remains the number one destination for those looking to offload or acquire a classic. The site's simplicity and ubiquity probably explain why - it's just so browsable.
Unfortunately eBay is plagued with scam adverts for classic cars. Before writing this article we checked the classic car search listing and discovered over 600 fake adverts listed in just one hour. That's a shocking statistic - and one eBay seems unwilling to do much about. Along with others in the classic car sector, we've tried to get the site to address the problem - it's ignored us.
So, if eBay won't act, how do you make sure you don't fall victim to one of these scams? We've put together some simple tips to help spot a fake ad and avoid parting with your money. It's not exhaustive - because the scammers are always finding new ways to scam us - but it's a start.
Individually these clues don't mean you're looking at a scam advert - but they make it more likely and, in combination, very likely. The familiar rule applies - don't take a risk.
How the Scam Works
Scam sellers 'scalp' genuine adverts to create their fake advert - they use the photos and sometimes the description from a genuine advert to list the scam advert. They also adopt fake IDs, usually by accessing a genuine account, so that they look like genuine sellers.
Most of these adverts work by encouraging the buyer to deal direct with the scammer, rather than via eBay. Once you're hooked in they'll request a deposit to 'hold' the car pending viewing. In the worst cases they'll ask for payment before delivering or collecting the car.
Beware the Title
The scammer is usually working in volume - this is not a sophisticated rip off. So they tend to list cars simply based on what they are - as here, a 1974 Jaguar XJ6. Most genuine sellers tend to elaborate when they create their headline and subhead, perhaps mention the full MOT, excellent condition and so on.
The absence of any creativity in the headline and absence of a sub heading are good indicators of a scam.
Too Good To Be True
Ebay has been around long enough that there are no longer bargains to be had - we're all looking at the same cars and they tend to sell for the prices they're worth. So if you see a car that looks cheap, there's a reason.
Most of the scams run with a £1 starting price or a surprisingly low Buy It Now price. Those points in themselves do not mean you're looking at a scam advert, but they should sound alarm bells. Most people who own classic cars have a very good idea of what they're worth - and that is often more than they're likely to get, not less. So if someone is selling a car for less than you expect, beware.
Check the Location
Scammers work in volume and this means they can often forget the detail. So their ads will state that the car is based in 'UK' or 'London', general locations that prevent identification and reflect the quick way that these ads are posted. Also look for spelling mistakes in locations.
In the past it was easy to spot scam adverts because the sellers had zero feedback. Now they use stolen or fake IDs to trick us.
A seemingly legitimate ID is not, of course, evidence of a scam. But if everything else about the advert screams scam, don't let the ID fool you into thinking otherwise.
Check the Seller's Other Ads
Most scam sellers will fake an ID, so it will look like they have bought and sold on eBay many times. As the fake ID is the hard part to create they tend to post lots of adverts at the same time to that account. Click on the 'Sellers Other Items' tab and you'll probably see lots of other cars listed in a similar way.
Read The Listing Carefully
Scam sellers use the description in two ways - they either cut and paste the original text or include brief wording that focusses on email contact.
Either way, the description will state that the buyer has to contact the seller via email. This is your trigger - any seller that is trying to deal outside eBay is a high risk and very likely to be a scammer.
A genuine buyer will take time to accurately describe their car and will only sell the car via eBay (which in theory protects buyer and seller).
The description may not ask you to buy via email. Instead it may ask you to email 'for more photos' or information. This is the bait - the scammer wants you to get in touch, so that they can reel you in.
It's extremely unfortunate that eBay can't be bothered to police these adverts properly. While it is true that most of them never reach the end of their listing because someone reports it first, that doesn't stop them being listed and being visible and operational for several days.
eBay is a useful way to find the classic car you want. But there are also many other safer ways to do this too - including Car & Classic, Collecting Cars and many of the other specialist classic car listings sites.
We'll be monitoring this issue and continuing to press eBay to do something about it. In the meantime we've teamed up with Great Escape Cars to create a Twitter account to highlight the scams we find. You can find it at @scamscar.
If you spot any scam adverts, please let us know through Twitter or in the comments. This is an important issue for us.
Great Escape Cars