Buying a car online is a common way of getting your hands on a new vehicle. It’s a sure-fire way of being able to see a variety of vehicles quickly and easily and, when done properly, can be hassle-free. However, as with many other areas of online shopping, you need to be on your toes to avoid being caught out.

Here, we take a look at some of the things you need to look out for when it comes to buying a car online.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is

As with most things in life, if a car seems too good to be true, then it probably is. A suspiciously low price – often thousands cheaper than other equivalent cars available – is an initial red flag, as is a lack of contact details or description.

Trust your gut here; browse through other adverts and you’ll soon see that suspicious adverts stand out like a sore thumb. As always, if there’s any doubt, leave it out. And, if you have any other concerns, check out the government’s advice here.

Don’t part with any money until you’ve got the car

It’s important that you don’t part with a single penny until you’ve viewed the car and are happy with. A lot of scams operate by getting people to transfer money ahead of time, often as a way to ‘secure’ the car. However, in these instances, the car doesn’t exist.

Only hand over the money or make the transfer when you’ve seen the car and want to make the purchase.

Do a history check

Car history checkers are a vital weapon in your online shopping arsenal. A variety of different companies offer them for a small fee, and it’s a sure-fire way of checking to see if a car has any outstanding finance or has previously been written off.

If you’re seriously considering purchasing a certain vehicle, then it’s highly recommended that you get a history check done so that you’re not caught out later on.

Remember, an HPI check won’t show you details about the car’s service history or usage. For that, you’ll have to see a service manual and logbook. If you’d like to know more about HPI checks, then take a look at our guides here and here.

Watch out for clocking

One scam which is commonly used is clocking, or the process of reducing the recorded mileage on a car’s display. Though less frequently seen with the advent of more complicated on-board computers, clocking is still a way for people to sell cars for more money than they should.

Again, an online check can help to certify the car’s mileage, as can a review of the V5 document. Plus, check the condition of the interior – does it look far more worn than you’d expect for the mileage? It could be a sign that everything is not as it seems.

Know the seller

It always helps to buy from an established seller, but there’s no reason why buying privately can’t be safe and sound too. It’s worth picking up the phone and speaking to the seller, but if you’re not certain, then it’s a good idea to ask to see the vehicle’s V5 and ensure that the address on it matches up with the seller’s.

What if you suspect you’ve been a victim of online fraud?

If you think you’ve fallen victim to online fraud, the first thing to do is to remain calm. The first thing to do is to report the issue to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre. You can do this via their secure online tool and you’ll need to submit all relevant information.

However, if you’d rather, you can also speak to a specialist anonymously at Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 for help and advice (Monday – Friday, 9am to 6pm).

At this point, it’s worth contacting your bank or building society if you notice any unusual or unauthorised activity on your account. They’ll be able to freeze your account, cancel your card and issue you with a new one.

Once you’ve notified them of the issue, your bank shouldn’t hold you liable for any further authorised withdrawals and will refund you if any money is taken.