A few tips on how to avoid an auto transport scam
Online scams happen daily and the auto transport industry has not escaped the online scammers. We believe that transporting a vehicle should be a worry-free experience so we’ve decided that today’s blog will be about how to avoid an auto transport scam.
How car shipping scams operate
Unscrupulous scammers operate all around the world, and unfortunately, people who want to sell or relocate their vehicles can be a target. These scammers operate by copying information from a legitimate auto shipping company’s website and using it to create their own fake site.
Different types of auto transport scams
Once they have created a website, they can target the unsuspecting public in a variety of ways.
- The bait and switch scam
This is the most common type of scam. A company will provide you with a very low price to ship your car. Then they try to get more money when it comes to moving your car.
- The up-sell scam
The target of this scam is someone who wants to ship their vehicle because they’re relocating. Using a very professional looking website, they offer to ship your car at a very reasonable, often cheap, price. When you contact the company, you get to speak with a very pleasant and polite person. Because you’re in a rush to get things sorted, you provide your credit card details and get on with making the rest of your arrangements.
A little while later, after they have picked up your vehicle, you’ll receive a call from the company to inform you that the price has changed. They could give a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is that if you refuse to pay they’re bound to hold your car until you agree to pay the increased price.
- Fake buyer - phishing scam
With this auto transport scam, the target is people who are selling a vehicle. The scammer will get in touch and offer to buy it. You agree to a price and they very kindly send a check that includes the cost of the vehicle and the cost of shipping it via their “approved shipping company”. This company just so happens to be their own site.
In most cases, the money clears, but you then receive a request to send money to cover the shipping. As per the agreement, you transfer the money. Your payment options will include an untraceable method that allows the recipient to cash the money immediately, such as Western Union or Moneygram.
A few days later, you get the dreaded call from your bank to let you know the original check has bounced. This means the money has disappeared from your account and you’re out of pocket.
- Fake seller
This is when a scammer poses as a car seller. They offer to sell you a car well below market value. You say you’ll buy the vehicle, they’ll insist you send the money before they’ll ship the car.
They’ll let you know that the vehicle is being held by the shipping agent. In order to verify the information they’ll direct you to a website (their website) that promises to hold your cash in escrow. All the while you’re left waiting for them to ship your car to you. Of course, this doesn’t happen. They take your money and don’t deliver the car.
How to identify a car shipping scam
It doesn’t require a lot of skill to copy and paste a website and change the details to your own. Being conned is also easy because the fraudsters are expert at what they do. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to spot an auto transport scam.
- Always verify the URL in the search bar matches the name of the site
- Always check the company is using a legitimate email address from the domain of the website rather than @hotmail.
- Always do your due diligence and research a company before you part with any cash.
- Never send money using an untraceable method such as Moneygram or Western Union.
- Always, always, always remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it invariably is.
- Check the FMCSA number listed on the company’s website. If there isn’t one listed give the company a call and ask for the Motor Carrier Number/ Freight Broker License number.
Tips on how to avoid a car shipping scam
There are many different ways you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of a car transport scam. Here are some things you can do to ensure the company you choose is a legitimate and reliable car transport company.
Know what to expect from a service provider
In the auto transport industry, there are a number of parties that can offer a service.
These are the people that provide the actual auto transport service. They own a fleet of trucks and employ or hire drivers and loaders. They are responsible for transporting your vehicle from start to finish. If you use a direct carrier, you limit your liability to one company.
Car shipping brokers
A broker acts as a middle man, providing clients for direct carriers. They work with many different carriers and provide a service across the whole of the US. A broker accepts bookings from customers and then looks for a carrier that offers the best rates.
Auto transport management companies
An auto transport management company, such as SGT Auto Transport, falls somewhere between a carrier and a car shipping broker. They manage the complete shipping process from start to finish. Services include:
- Taking your booking;
- Getting in touch with some of the most reliable car transport companies;
- Coordinating the vehicle shipping process;
- Keeping you updated throughout the process;
- Resolving any issues that might arise.
Work with an auto transport management company and they’ll do everything for you.
Before you make a booking
Shop around and do your research
The most important tip is to shop around and do your research. Don’t base your decision on a price, a great looking website, or the smooth-talking sales agent you speak to. Spend some time doing your research and read lots of reviews.
Gather information on the car transport company
Gather together as much information as you can about your potential car mover. Information you need to look for includes:
- Full company name including any DBAs
- Phone numbers, both local and toll-free
- DOT and MC licensing numbers
Browse their website
A scammer is very likely going to build their website in a rush and on a low budget. You’ll see evidence of this with grammatical errors. Everyone makes mistakes, but a legitimate company would take the time to review their website to ensure there are no errors. Also, check that the website uses SSL protocol to secure transferred payments and communication.
Check for contact information
Scam auto shipping websites tend not to have any contact information. If they do, it’ll be a phony number or a non-functional email address. Try to contact a company and if you fail, this is a strong indicator that you’re dealing with a scam company. If there’s an address listed, look it up on Google Maps to see if it’s true.
Check for company reviews
When you’re researching companies to ship your car make sure you spend some time reading the company’s reviews. There are plenty of places you can look for auto transport reviews. Google, Yelp, Better Business Bureau (BBB), Trustpilot, Facebook, and Transport Reviews. It’s also worth checking the company’s standing with the Federal Motor Safety Carrier Administration (FMCSA). In particular, check the company has any complaints filed against it.
Don’t, however, let it discourage you if the door-to-door car transport company has a few complaints. No company is perfect, and not every customer is easy to please. People are always more willing to complain before they compliment.
Check with the Better Business Bureau
The Better Business Bureau only lists genuine and reputable businesses, so this is an excellent place to start doing your research. A scammer is going to find it virtually impossible to get listed by the BBB.
The BBB is a great place to check the legitimacy of a business as it keeps records of contact information, complaints, how long the business has been in operation, and how long they’ve been members of the BBB.
Check payment methods
A scammer website is going to ask you to pay for their service using a Moneygram or Western Union. The reason for this is that you make the payment using a wire transfer, which is non-traceable. A legitimate company will ask for payment using a bank transfer, credit or debit card, cashier’s check, or PayPal. These types of transactions are easily traceable in case of fraud.
Check for licenses
All car shipping companies have to register with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The FMCSA will issue them with a motor carrier number. If an auto transport company doesn’t have this number, they’re not authorized to operate. You should be able to find this number on the company’s website. If it’s not clearly displayed, contact the company and request the information. Once you’ve got a number, you should verify it on the FMSCA’s official website.
Make sure the company carries its own insurance
Look for a company that carries its own insurance. Reputable companies offering open car transport and enclosed auto transport will carry contingent cargo insurance.
This coverage protects your vehicle while in the hands of the carrier. An auto transport management company will be able to provide the carriers cargo insurance. SGT Auto Transport, for example, doesn’t work with carriers who are not insured.
Check for direct carriers
A direct carrier is a company that ships vehicles from a pick-up location to a delivery location using their own trucks and drivers. They don’t use third parties to transport vehicles.
If the deal is too good to be true, it probably is
You’ll find plenty of companies boasting that they can beat any quote and honestly, who doesn’t like a deal. Yes, there are going to be companies that can offer fantastic deals, but sometimes, a quote comes in significantly lower than the best rate. If you look very closely at the fine print of the terms and conditions, you might find the answer. Often it’s because there are additional fees for basic services, sold as upgrades that come standard with other companies. In some cases, they might charge you again upon delivery, so always make sure you read the fine print and verify all fees included in the quote.
Avoid upfront payment and wire transfers
This is where many people fall victim to scammers. Most car shipping scams are only successful because they’re able to convince people to pay money upfront. You should be aware that a broker or auto transport management company will expect a small payment before you ship your car. The remaining balance is payable when your vehicle reaches its destination. A scammer will also typically ask for payment via wire transfer. This is because it’s virtually impossible to dispute the payment if you don’t get the service you paid for.
Read the transport contract
Always read and understand each detail of the shipping contract. If you sign the contract without reading it first, you run the risk of being charged additional fees and being unaware of damage and reimbursement. Make sure you understand terms in the contract covering liability, limitations, exemptions, and costs. If there’s anything you don’t understand, ask a customer representative to explain.
Beware of the bait and switch trick
This is when a company offers to ship your vehicle initially for a certain price and then add on more charges before the pick-up date. When you request a quote, remember the old adage, if the price seems too good to be true it probably is. It helps if you get an understanding of industry rates and how costs change depending on the shipping season and other factors. You’ll then be able to tell when a quote is unrealistic.
Beware of surprisingly quick scheduling
The process of scheduling auto transport is one that takes time. If you use a transport management company, they have to reach out to carriers in their network to find a carrier that meets your needs. During peak season, it might take even longer because of the high demand for auto transport services.
If you get a call or an email informing you that a carrier can pick up your vehicle in just a few hours, be very wary as it could be a scam.
When the auto transport service is in progress
Speak to the driver
A reputable transport company will provide details of the driver, together with their contact information. Customers can contact the driver to ensure the service is legitimate and to confirm delivery after pick-up. It’s always a good idea to have the driver’s information so you can contact them directly in case of delays.
Inspect your vehicle
Your vehicle should be delivered exactly as it was picked up. Before the pick-up, inspect your vehicle thoroughly and make a note or take photos of existing damage. It’s also wise to note down the mileage.
When your vehicle is delivered, inspect it thoroughly again for damages or signs of it being used. If you have any doubts, ask to speak to a manager.
What to do if you’re the victim of an auto transport scam
If you fall victim to an auto transport scam or find yourself dealing with a questionable auto transport company, you must report it to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC cannot resolve individual consumer complaints but it does have a section on the website where there are tips to help you get your money back. The FTC has the power to sue companies that make deceptive claims about a service. The lawsuit may result in a refund for the people affected.
Something else you can do is share the scam on social media and write reviews about the service you received.
If you’re looking for car shipping services, only use legitimate and reputable companies that have been operating for a number of years. The company should have all the necessary licenses, registration, and insurance, and be able to offer a market standard quote.
We’ve been operating for more than 6 years and have delivered more than 15k+ vehicles. Our network is made up of more than 25k vetted carriers and we’re very proud to say we have provided more than 12k happy customers with an auto transport service. Our overall customer rating is 4.7/5.0.
Work with us and you get peace of mind knowing your vehicle is in the hands of a reliable car transport management company that has your best interests at the top of its list of priorities.