How to avoid scammers when buying a car

What you need to know:

While most drivers still head to the lots for their future cars, buyers are increasingly checking websites for new, used, and collector cars. And just like in other parts of the online world, scam artists are looking for car shoppers to take advantage of

In August, George Agaba started the process of importing a Toyota Land Cruiser TX 2008 with a car dealer in Kireka, Kampala. He made an initial deposit of $40,000, (about Shs148m). He was to clear the balance upon delivery of the car.

“Although I had been told that I would receive the car within two months, it had not arrived even after three months of waiting. I went to police and one of the dealership agents was arrested. At Jinja Road Police Station, I learnt that many had been scammed in a similar manner,” Agaba says.  

What to know

Agaba is one of the many victims who recently lost money through car scam deals involving a local car importer. The victim’s moneys were taken but no cars were delivered. Worse still is the fact that the cars most victims had paid for were still being displayed online for sale.

Richard Mugerwa, who has been in the car importing business for 12 years, says in regard to the previous Be Forward saga, it was not Be Forward at fault but rather, the agents in Uganda who traded under the company name.

Hold the money

According to Mugerwa, a car importer, genuine car importing companies such as tradecarview (TCV) will not release money to the seller once you make any payments. The money will be held in an escrow account until confirmation from the buyer that the car has been received and in  good condition.

“The account is managed by the website through whom you are importing the car. Once you receive the invoice from the seller, the company will charge you between $50, (about Shs185,000) and $80 (Shs296,000). This charge guarantees that you are happy with the received car and it is actually the one you ordered. If it is not, then the money will not be released to the seller,” Mugerwa explains.

However, after the recent fraud allegations with Be Forward company, there is fear among prospective importers on whom to trust with their money. Mugerwa advises one to instead deal directly with the dealer in the country you are importing the car from. In this case, you have to make sure the car is ordered in your name and the money is paid directly from your account to the seller’s.

However, even if you are use an agent, all they should charge is the fee to facilitate the process. All the money transactions and payments are done directly from you and by you to the seller so that even the car documentation is in your name. 

Identify a genuine supplier

Eddie Matovu, a car importer, says when online, always remember that there are many waiting scammers who have perfected their game. He says one has to use reputable websites with a name to protect.

“It is safer for you to make inquiries about genuine dealers such as ebay or Amazon whom you only pay after they have met all conditions, including delivering your car. It is easy to get excited when you see the car you want and pay only for the dealer to go mute. The loophole is that car dealers are appointing many agents and this is something that must be avoided,” Matovu advises.

Do not share personal information

According to, the seller might seem nice and trustworthy, but that could be an act.

“Whether buying a car, selling a car, or doing anything else on the internet for that matter, be wary of sharing personal information, including banking and credit card information, your social security and insurance numbers, and your birthday. Scam artists are incredibly crafty with the information they can obtain to figure out even more,” the portal advises.

Avoiding local scams

Beyond just being scammed online, there are also local dealers who operate without permanent office premises. Avoiding being scammed locally comes down to basic documentation knowledge. Ensure there are legal documents such as a car sales agreement, access to the car logbook to ascertain ownership but also make sure there are no encumbrances with the car. For instance, someone could have caveats and used the car logbook to get a loan from a money lender and used it as security.

At Uganda Revenue Authority, you can check the car’s history. Before buying a car locally, it is also safe to check with street parking authorities such as Multiplex or even with the Uganda traffic police directorate. You do not want to buy a car only to realise later that there are parking tickets or express penalty tickets against its number plate that are equivalent to the actual cost of the car.

However, states that for normal cases, it is best to stay close to home since this allows a buyer to check out a car in person and meet the seller before making a purchase.

Common red flags when buying a car

Keep these warning signs in mind when purchasing a vehicle online or in-person:

The price is below market value: If the price of a used vehicle seems too good to be true, it probably is. Fraudsters will often post pictures of rare or exotic cars at low prices, and when you contact them about the vehicle, they will say it is located in another state or outside the country. They will attempt to get you to send them money before shipping the car, which likely does not exist.

Fake escrow services: Though escrow services are a legitimate way to protect your money, fraudsters may attempt to trick you into using a fake escrow service. They will ask you to transfer money to the account before shipping the car, only to break the contract once the funds clear.

Buying sight unseen: Dishonest car sellers may claim to be too busy or far away to meet you. They may even offer a fake inspection report to convince you the car is in working order, if it exists at all.

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