Beware of multi-million rand scams in used car industry

Criminals are coming up with increasingly devious ways of parting used car buyers with their money. Sadly, more and more South Africans are falling prey to these fraudsters, losing millions of rands in the process.
This sobering news is courtesy of Darryl Jacobson, managing director of Burchmore’s, who warns that buyers need to be extremely cautious when acquiring a used car. “While most used car buying experiences are good ones, we are hearing of new scams daily,” he reveals. “Generally they have one feature in common: the buyer is being offered an unbelievably good deal.”
Jacobson says that these “unbelievably good deals” need to be scrutinised over and over again. “If you’re about to buy a used car at a ridiculously low price, ask yourself why this is happening to you. Why would you alone be privy to such an exceptionally good deal? Why are you so lucky? Chances are excellent that you’re about to be scammed,” he warns.
The fraudsters are becoming increasingly creative, and Jacobson reveals that they may pose as an agent or staff member at a used car retailer or bank. “They are extremely convincing and appear authentic, and it’s relatively easy for them to dupe trusting members of the public. Their schemes are both innovative and sophisticated,” he notes.
These fraudsters are, quite literally, professional crooks… and many buyers end up losing thousands of rands, and never ever taking delivery of their cars. However, the good news is that Jacobson does have some meaningful advice for used car buyers. “I urge prospective buyers to heed this advice. It cannot guarantee that you won’t get scammed but it could help,” Jacobson points out.
The first step is to select your vehicle supplier with extreme caution. “If you are dealing with an individual, and not a company, be extremely cautious. Be very wary of any private-to-private sales. The risks are huge: hijackings, false checks, stolen cars… the list of potential problems is huge. It is much better to deal with a company; that way, you have some recourse should anything go wrong,” explains Jacobson.
Verify the source that you are buying the car from. “You need to consider all sorts of different factors. How long has the company been in business? Is it a member of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation of South Africa (RMI)? Is it part of a listed company? How much stock does the company have on its floor? Does it have a good reputation? How many people does it employ? Does it look professional and above board?” advises Jacobson.
Only deal with salespeople who are clearly employees of these large companies. Avoid a so-called agent or company without a landline. “If the person with whom you’re dealing only has a cellular telephone number, rather shop elsewhere. Large and reputable companies all have landlines,” Jacobson notes.
The vehicle supplier should present you with all the necessary paperwork, including an offer to purchase, the vehicle’s registration papers and (if available) a service book. “Study all the paperwork carefully,” says Jacobson.
Remember that a salesperson at a used car outlet (such as Burchmore’s or any other reputable company) will always work in conjunction with an administration department as well as a finance and insurance (F&I) department. “If the salesperson wants to meet you in the parking lot to do the deal, be nervous and ask questions. Once a salesperson as ‘done the deal’ so to speak, you’re normally handed over to administration or F&I,” notes Jacobson.
When applying for finance, only deal with the professionals in the F&I office at the used car retailer. “When applying for finance, ensure that you are dealing with the actual finance company, and not someone purporting to be from the finance company,” stresses Jacobson. “If there is any doubt, telephone the bank or used car outlet and check that the person actually works there.”
When paying for a used car, it’s also very important to be careful. “Be extremely wary of ever paying cash and avoid it if at all possible. Because of the obvious security risks, we never allow cash on our premises at Burchmore’s. However, if you are forced into paying cash elsewhere, ensure that you receive an official company receipt that is verified by the financial manager at the company. If a salesperson says the deal is dependent on a large cash deposit, be extremely wary.
“When paying by electronic transfer, confirm the company’s banking details and never pay into a private account or give a cheque to a private individual,” stresses Jacobson.
It is so important to do your homework. “When you buy a house, you look at 50 houses, you spend time inspecting and comparing them. When you buy a television set, you compare features and prices. A car is your second most important investment – so it’s vitally important to do your homework. If this happens, you know what to expect to pay. If a car should cost R100 000 and you’re offered that vehicle for R30 000, something is horribly wrong, but you will only be aware of this if you’ve done your homework,” notes Jacobson.
He says that, as tempting as it is, buyers should never be greedy. “We all want the deal of a lifetime and we all want a bargain. But you will never get a car worth R100 000 for a mere R30 000; that’s just not going to happen – not at Burchmore’s or any other professional used car retailer,” Jacobson comments.
Above all, he says that buyers should take their time. “There is no need to rush into a decision; a used car purchase is an important decision,” he notes.
Never ignore your gut feel. “If a deal feels fishy in any way, rather walk away,” advises Jacobson.
Finally, avoid sensational “once in a lifetime” deals. “The fraudsters realise that people will only take chances when the price is too good to say ‘no’. So, generally, they offer extremely attractive prices. If the deal looks too good to be true, walk away. Or examine the conditions and investigate the supplier very carefully before buying,” he concludes.