Consumer Safety – Drive’s guide to safely buying and selling a car online

Avoiding online scams

From time to time we are made aware of email scams and social media posts that claim to be authentic DRIVE communications. These may ask customers to visit an external site and download a file or confirm customer details.

Drive will only send you emails or text messages relating to a vehicle enquiry you have made with Drive or in relation to your subscription to our email newsletter

Known examples of fraudulent use of email scams and social media posts that claim to be from Drive that request them to click look like this:

Drive Recommends

  • Do not click on links in emails or messages, or open attachment
  • Immediately delete any suspicious emails or messages
  • Be cautious if messages are very enticing or appealing (they seem too good to be true) 
  • Beware threats and to suggestions that you must take immediate action  

Additional Information

Phishing (pronounced ‘fishing’) is an email scam designed to capture sensitive information from you (such as credit card numbers or login credentials) by sending an email that is designed to look just like it came from a legitimate source and contain real company logos, but is intended to trick you into clicking on a malicious link or downloading an attachment potentially laced with malware.  

Malware, or malicious software, is an intrusive program that fraudsters try to install on your computer or device. Malware, such as a virus or Trojan, can disrupt or slow down operations, gather personal and financial details, extract funds or perform other fraudulent activities under your name.

What to do if you think you have revealed confidential information

If you think you’ve entered your credit card or account details to a phishing site, contact your financial institution immediately.

Report scams to the ACCC via the Scamwatch report a scam page. Your report helps to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible. Please include details of the scam contact you received, for example, the email or screenshot.

You can also contact IDCare on 1800 595 160 or via for support if you believe your personal information has been put at risk.

How to safely buy a vehicle online

When looking to buy your perfect car, safety comes first. While Drive’s site features both only accredited used car dealers, it always pays to carefully consider your purchase before handing over any money. 

Below, we’ve rounded up the key tips and tricks (and things to avoid) when purchasing a vehicle online. 

1. Be wary of too-low prices

Everybody loves a bargain, but notably low prices should sometimes set off alarm bells. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In order to gauge whether or not a car is unusually or unreasonably priced, ask yourself the following:

  • Is the vehicle far cheaper than similar listings?
  • Are the kilometres extremely low for that model/year of vehicle? 
  • Does the price reflect its value? In order to assess this, you can use Drive’s free car valuation tool to get some basic price information here.

2. Ask for important details before you pay

Never feel bad asking too many questions when buying a car – it’s essential to have all the information you need before the seller even sees a cent of your money. 

Some important information to ask for:

  • Additional photos to the ones shared online, including close-up shots of any damage mentioned
  • The license plate number
  • The number of kilometres the car has done
  • The vehicle information number or VIN
  • The current registration details
  • To verify a  claim of ‘full service history’ by seeing firsthand the stamped log book
  • Whether the vehicle has ever been written off or undergone major repairs
  • A phone call with the seller 

It’s also advisable to have the vehicle inspected by a competent licensed mechanic prior to purchase.

3. Get on the phone with the seller

Where possible, make a habit of asking for a phone call with the seller. Legitimate sellers should have no issue chatting over the phone and if someone makes excuses as to why they can’t talk, or the phone number on the ad goes through to the wrong person, be wary.

4. Get a Personal Property Securities check

The Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) is a national online register that can provide information to help protect consumers when they are buying personal property such as cars, boats or artworks (not including land or buildings). With some basic information, and for a very small fee (usually around $2), you can see if a vehicle is free from debt, safe from repossession, not reported written off and not reported stolen. 

“Purchasing a used car with a security interest registered against it could mean it’s repossessed even after you’ve paid for it, and buying a vehicle that’s been previously written off or stolen also comes with significant risk. Cars on the Takata airbag recall list that have not had new airbags fitted are also potentially very dangerous,” a PPSR spokesperson explains.

This check may also enable you to confirm the details of the seller’s ad. Head here to get started.

5. Take care with interstate or overseas sellers

If a seller’s location is far away, or they’re looking to sell the car quickly because they’re “relocating”, keep your wits about you. One of the more common scams involves a seller claiming to be in the defence force, telling buyers they are being deployed soon and thus have lowered the price of their vehicle in order to sell it faster. 

Additionally, some sellers will offer to transport a vehicle to you interstate (often via a third party business called after you pay the entire cost of the vehicle upfront, but will disappear without ever handing the car over. If this is the case, contact your local police immediately. 

It’s important to remember that when dealing with overseas or interstate sellers, different consumer protection laws may apply or only offer limited protection. 

6. Don’t disclose personal details too early

Rather than providing your own contact details straight off the bat, ask for the seller’s number and call them with your own phone number blocked to ensure they’re legitimate. Don’t share your personal residential address either.

7. Where possible, arrange to see the vehicle in person

“There are always inherent risks with buying vehicles ‘sight unseen’, particularly over the internet,” Western Australia’s Consumer Protection Commissioner, Lanie Chopping, explains. 

“Fake advertisements can appear on genuine car sales websites, in online classifieds and online auction sites. This includes scams which offer non-existent second-hand vehicles for lower than expected prices.

Where possible, arrange to see the car in person (or, if interstate, have a friend do it for you) before you make a purchase. Approach in-person meetings with caution by having a friend or family member accompany you and meeting in a neutral public place.

8. Approach test drives with caution

For the sake of personal safety when test driving or collecting a vehicle from a private seller, organise to meet the seller in a neutral public location like a public car park or police station. Drive suggests having someone accompany you for any meetings and urges you not to disclose your personal residential address. 

Once you’ve purchased the car, it is also advised to have your vehicle insured for the drive home, so you’re covered in the event of an accident. 

9. Use safe and reliable payment methods

Decline using an escrow service when buying a car and instead opt for a method of payment that provides you with proof of purchase, like a receipt or email confirmation directly from the provider. Additionally, ask the seller for a signed receipt with the date and time to confirm payment. 

“Beware some scammers will send so-called ‘spoof emails’, which appear to be from PayPal and contain a link that directs you to a fake version of the PayPal site,” Commissioner Lanie Chopping advises.

“Always verify the sender of the email, as scammers will use a legitimate name to hide the fake email address behind it.”

How to safely sell a vehicle online

Those selling a vehicle online should be equally wary of scammers and malpractice. Here’s how to protect yourself before, during and after the sale process. 

1. Avoid text message-only interactions

Scammers will sometimes target online sellers by pretending to be a potential buyer. These scammers will send an SMS requesting a response via email. The SMS sender will claim to be highly interested in the listing and often will be prepared to offer a large sum of money.

These messages are usually from overseas scammers who want to communicate via email or text, so they can translate correspondence online. The scammer will likely ask for the seller’s PayPal details and will subsequently share a fake receipt claiming to have transferred too much money and request for it to be returned. When in doubt, ask to chat to a potential buyer over the phone. 

However, it’s also advisable to withhold your own personal number until you’re confident a buyer is legitimate. 

2. Ensure you have the relevant documentation at hand

In order to save time and set your buyer’s mind at ease, have the car’s current registration papers handy, along with the service records and, ideally, a PPSR or vehicle history report from the relevant state body. 

3. Research the value of your car

There are plenty of ways to ascertain the value of your car and ensure your asking price is accurate and fair.  For starters, you can use Drive’s free car valuation tool to get some basic price information here. You can also look at current listings for cars similar to your own to get a picture of its worth. 

4. Take care with test drives

Before a potential buyer comes to inspect the car and possibly test drive it, talk to your insurer to make sure you’re covered in the event they have an accident. When they arrive, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask to verify their identity by sighting their ID.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to take down their license details or accompany them on the test drive to be safe. Drive also suggests meeting your buyer in a public place (avoid disclosing your residential address) and having someone accompany you to the meeting. 

5. Use safe and reliable payment methods

Avoid asking buyers to use Western Union, wire transfer or escrow companies and opt for methods like cash or bank transfer.

If you believe you may have been the victim of a scam, the PPSR advises contacting your local police. For more information on vehicle fraud head to Report online fraud to Australian Government via the website sign up for the Stay Smart Online email alerts