Beating the bike fraudsters

Buying a new bike should be an exciting time. But the Vehicle Safe Trading Advisory Group (VSTAG) has warned young bikers to be wary of ‘too good to be true’ deals that may leave them short changed.

At a time when household finances are being squeezed, bike buyers can lay themselves open to scams and financial fraud to save money, by choosing less secure payment options, not conducting thorough bike history checks, and making purchases that aren’t covered by consumer protection laws.

A VSTAG survey found that when buying a new bike nearly one in two Brits (47%) would pay potentially thousands of pounds to a seller directly from their bank account to gain a better price before seeing the vehicle.

They will also happily ignore the fact that a bike owner might not have key paperwork or a service history if the bike is a bit cheaper – but both are red flags that could mean the bike is stolen or has a chequered history with outstanding finance still attached.

A full vehicle history check can help safeguard buyers against fraudulent activity, enabling them to confirm important details of the bike, including whether it’s been recorded as stolen, written off, scrapped, or is subject to outstanding finance.

However, only 37% of people are likely to invest in a full check to review the background and history before making their purchase.

VSTAG also found that young people (18–24-year-olds) are most likely to be affected by bike buying scams.

Tony Neate, Chief Executive Officer of Get Safe Online, said:

“VSTAG is concerned the growing squeeze on household finances may be putting more people at risk of scams. We want to remind people of the small, but simple steps that everyone can take to not only minimise risk, but to also put themselves in the strongest position should they be affected by fraud.

“When buying a motorbike, one piece of advice is fundamental. Make sure you see the vehicle ‘in the metal’ before parting with payment. Being asked for any sort of money before even seeing the bike exists is a big red flag, so don’t be caught out.”

David Callington, HSBC UK’s Head of Fraud, added:

“Scammers are devious criminals who use a range of techniques to steal money from people without any concern for the mental or financial wellbeing of their victims. There are a number of simple checks that can be done before buying a bike to ensure it actually exists, is roadworthy and doesn’t have outstanding finance attached to it. There are also things that can be done to reduce the risk of being a victim of a scam. Be suspicious if a seller wants you to make a bank transfer or asks you to send money before you have actually seen the vehicle. Remember, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

VSTAG’s tips on how you can protect yourself from falling victim to vehicle scams:

  1. Payment advice: Never send money for a bike you haven’t seen.
  2. Paying a deposit: If a deposit is requested or agreed, only pay what you are willing to lose and confirm with the seller that they will refund the deposit if you don’t purchase the bike.
  3. View the vehicle before paying the full amount: We recommend researching the seller as well as their bike. Most fraudulent sellers will try to persuade you to transfer money before you’ve even laid eyes on the vehicle. A red flag is the seller insisting on communicating only via email rather than on the phone.
  4. Always check that the price of the vehicle is in line with the market value: If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is: a bargain price could be a sign of fraud or theft. Research other similar vehicles or perform a free valuation on Auto Trader. If the vehicle is below market value, beware. Ask the seller questions about its valuation; there may be a legitimate reason if the vehicle is under-priced, such as a ‘firesale’ for much-needed instant cash, but just check.
  5. Take the bike for a test ride: Be sure to thoroughly inspect any bike you are looking to purchase and take it for a test ride. The test ride should always be done from the seller’s premises or their home; never let the person meet you halfway.
  6. Always carry out a bike history check: A history check will tell you if the vehicle is recorded as stolen, written off, scrapped, or is subject to outstanding finance. You can conduct a basic check for free on Auto Trader, or pay for one with a reputable firm like HPI.

The watchword is, be cautious… and remember, if it seems to good to be true… it probably is!

Watch out for our next article in this series, on how to sell your precious bike safely.

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