Buying a car online can be a dicey proposition, particularly if you’re purchasing a vehicle sight unseen from somebody you’ve never met in a different part of the country. eBay is well aware of the associated risks, which is why it enlisted the services of an independent company out of Alabama to administer a Vehicle Purchase Protection (VPP) program to protect eBay Motors' customers from fraud.
How Scammers Prey on the Ignorance of Buyers
The VPP shields buyers from unscrupulous sellers, so they can shop with a certain level of confidence. In plain language, eBay’s VPP promises to reimburse buyers for the more brazen attempts of sellers to swindle them, such as receiving payment for a car and then not delivering it, or selling a vehicle without disclosing a lien against the title, or not returning a deposit for a purchase that was not completed.
Despite this safeguard, however, scammers are shrewd. They know how to subvert the system by taking advantage of the oversights of the uninformed buyers who haven’t read the VPP restrictions closely. There are countless cautionary tales online of buyers getting bilked by sellers exploiting certain nuances of the vehicle purchase protection plan that are plainly stated but often overlooked. A Michigan-based lawyer named Steve Lehto has covered eBay’s VPP extensively. On his eBay channel, he shared just a few of those stories from clients he’s worked with who got conned buying a car through eBay motors.
The first buyer Lehto represented, received a different vehicle than the one she had been bidding on. It was the same year, make, and model as the one she’d seen dozens of photos of in the listing, but the car that was delivered was damaged. The shipping company even presented a delivery receipt for her to sign, confirming that the vehicle was picked up in that condition.
The buyer submitted a reimbursement request that was later denied. Inexplicably, the VPP administrator said dealt with said her situation was not covered because she received a similar vehicle with a “clear title.” Lehto helped her get her money back, but to do so, she had to sue the dealer.
Lehto shared the story of another eBay buyer who got stung by a shady seller in Canada who sent him an incomplete title. According to the title, the vehicle was registered to the seller, who had signed the document, and another unknown individual, whose signature was missing.
After having to jump hurdles to finally get the car and then discovering it was not remotely in the condition he was expecting, the buyer went to his local department of motor vehicles to get plates for the vehicle. Upon examining the title, the DMV clerk told him the title was invalid, and the car couldn’t be registered.
The buyer tried to resolve the situation directly with the seller to no avail, at which point he ended up reaching out to a VPP administrator with a reimbursement request. His claim was promptly denied because the VPP disclaimer explicitly states that situations such as his are not applicable.
“Receiving a title that is not signed, is improperly assigned, or receiving a title but not being able to register the vehicle (unless you are unable to register the vehicle due to an undisclosed lien against its title)” is not covered, according to eBay.
How Buyers Get Bamboozled By the Craigslist Scam
These savvy swindle schemes aren’t exclusive to eBay. Seizing on the exact sense of security the VPP promises, scammers outside of the platform have even tried to pull customers by suggesting that their purchases would be covered by the VPP, even though their listings are initially posted on Craigslist. This is a notorious scam; it is so common that eBay has posted prominent precautions on their vehicle purchase protection page.
The way this particular scam usually works is a seller lists a vehicle for sale on Craigslist with an inexplicably low price. When a buyer expresses interest in the automobile, the seller generally responds by telling them they no longer have a need for the car and just want to get rid of it. If the buyer requests to see or test drive the vehicle, the seller declines, offering an explanation of how they’re deployed overseas with the military or otherwise out of town for work and cannot show the car in person. They then assure the buyer that their purchase will be covered by the VPP and directs them to conduct the transaction on eBay, sending them to a listing that seems legit.
From there, the seller tells the buyer that eBay will follow up with directions on how to complete the transaction, which is subsequently bolstered by an official-looking communication from eBay urging the buyer to wire the payment or send it with refillable cash cards. If the buyer falls for the scam, the seller makes off with the money.
Learn About the Restrictions Before You Buy
Buyers may think they’re protected, but they’re not. The eligibility requirement of the VPP is that buyers must conduct their entire transaction with a seller within the confines on eBay. As long as they’re doing that, the VPP provides something of a safety net. But there are certain limitations to the plan, and it’s wise to brief yourself on what those restrictions are so you can refrain from being ripped off should the sales transaction go south and you need to request a reimbursement.
While the vehicle purchase protection program sounds similar in scope to eBay’s Money Back Guarantee, there is one major difference. The VPP is not administered by eBay—a point the company makes known from the onset—and the terms are subject to change without notice. eBay stresses that the VPP is not intended to be an insurance policy or warrant. Rather than buying blindly and relying on the VPP plan, the company urges buyers to take some preliminary precautions when buying an automobile on eBay.
According to Rich LaMagna, an online safety advisor for eBay, buyers should research the vehicle thoroughly and find out how much the car is worth for the make, model, and year that is listed. If the asking price is much lower than the market value, that’s cause for concern. The other thing to be leary of is if the seller is insistent on closing the transaction quickly and being paid by wire transfer or Western Union or with prepaid, refillable cash cards. These are also red flags.
Here is a complete breakdown of everything you need to know about eBay’s VPP: the eligibility requirements, what’s covered and what’s not, how to submit a request for reimbursement, how the amount of reimbursement is determined and how long the process takes.
Eligibility Requirements for Vehicle Purchase Protection
The basic guidelines require that you purchase the vehicle on eBay Motors and both your account and the seller’s eBay account needs to be in good standing.
The price for the vehicle has to be more than $100, and the purchase needs to be successful to be eligible. (The sale is considered successful when you’ve been notified by eBay that you had the winning bid in an auction or that your Buy It Now or Best Offer was accepted, according to eBay.)
Another VPP reimbursement cannot have been requested within the past six months, and all parties involved in the transaction (including any financial institutions involved) must be based in the United States or Canada.
What's Covered By Vehicle Purchase Protection
The vehicle purchase protection plan only applies to cars that are less than 10 years old, unless there is an odometer discrepancy. Generally, the VPP covers whatever purchase price was paid or repairs that need to be made up to $100,000. The reimbursement amount is based on whichever amount is lower. The complete list of situations covered by the VPP, according to eBay, include:
You pay for a vehicle or send a refundable deposit for a vehicle and never receive the vehicle.
You pay for a vehicle and receive it, but suffer a loss because: The vehicle was determined by a law enforcement agency to have been stolen prior to your purchase.
The vehicle has an undisclosed or unknown lien against its title.
The vehicle make, model, or year is different than what was described in the seller's listing at the time you placed your bid or offer. Note, however, that VPP does not protect you if the seller's description was inaccurate with respect to the vehicle's sub-model, trim packages or special editions.
You did not receive a title from the seller (and a title is required by both your state and the seller's state), and it's not possible to obtain a title from the appropriate DMV.
The vehicle had a title with one of the following undisclosed brands (salvage, rebuilt/rebuildable, unrebuildable, reconstructed, scrapped/destroyed, junk, lemon, manufacturer buyback or flood/water damage) at the time of the end of the listing. (This protection is not available for vehicles listed in the Dune Buggy, Race Car, or Trailer categories.)
The vehicle is less than 20 years old and has more than a 5,000-mile odometer discrepancy from the mileage stated in the seller's listing. (This protection is only available for vehicles listed in the Car & Truck and RV & Camper categories.)
The vehicle is less than 10 years old (based on model year) and has undisclosed damage to the (a) engine, (b) transmission, and/or (c) body/frame (each a "qualifying component"). The cost of repair to each qualifying component must exceed $1,000. For vehicles listed in the Bus, Commercial Truck, and RV & Camper categories, the cost of repair for the undisclosed damage to each qualifying component must exceed $1,500. For vehicles listed in the Boat category, the cost of repair for the undisclosed damage to each of the engine or the hull must exceed $1,500. This protection is not available for vehicles listed in the Race Car or Aircraft categories. Vehicles that are subject to a recall for this type of damage are not eligible for VPP.
What's Not Covered By Vehicle Purchase Protection
According to eBay, there are a host of things that VPP doesn’t cover that are related to vehicle condition, deposit issues, ancillary losses, title ownership issues, and other situations that are excluded, according to eBay:
Any damage on vehicles 10 years old or older (10-year threshold is based on model year)
Regular maintenance and fluid levels
Normal wear and tear, including but not limited to belts, hoses, tires, brakes, bushings, joints, spark plugs and wires, interior features, minor dents, paint chips, and scratches
Damage to any component (other than the combustion engine, transmission, and/or body/frame), including but not limited to the vehicle's interior, exhaust, air conditioner, electrical (including the battery or other electrical components of a hybrid or electric car's engine), suspension, cooling system, turbocharger, fuel system, differential, clutch/torque converter, and/or pollution control devices
Damage to qualifying components that do not exceed $1,000 (or $1,500 for vehicles listed in the Boat, Bus, Commercial Truck, RV and Camper categories)
Damage after purchase: Damage or loss caused during shipping or otherwise after purchase.
Cosmetic damage, such as paint or external surface rust
Any damage on a vehicle listed with anything but a "clear" title
Sending a non-refundable deposit for a vehicle and not receiving the vehicle, or a refund, because you chose not to complete the transaction or pay the remaining balance for any reason
Punitive damages, lost profits, loss of work, travel expenses, or restocking costs
Misstatements about the type of title brand, for a vehicle listed with anything but a "clear" title
Failure to receive a certificate of title for a vehicle that was listed with a title brand or with the title being described as anything but "clear"
Receiving a title that is not signed, is improperly assigned, or receiving a title but not being able to register the vehicle (unless you are unable to register the vehicle due to an undisclosed lien against its title)
Losses based on a vehicle classified as "theft recovery" or "previously stolen" but recovered by a law enforcement agency prior to being listed on eBay
Any damage or listing discrepancies that were disclosed to you prior to taking possession of the vehicle
Any damage that could have been discovered upon reasonable inspection before you paid for and picked up the vehicle in person
Any damage that does not impact the safety or operability of the vehicle
Repairs or alterations made by you to the vehicle without the consent of the VPP Administrator
Inspection costs, warranty fees, taxes paid, or any other fees or expenses that are not expressly covered under these Terms and Conditions
Transactions occurring off-eBay or on any other website
Filing a Claim for Reimbursement
Before submitting a reimbursement request, eBay recommends trying to resolve the situation directly with the seller. If that’s unsuccessful and you meet the eligibility requirements, you can file a claim. To take advantage of the vehicle purchase protection program, you must submit a reimbursement request under the program within 45 days of the end of the listing (not the payment and/or delivery date).
There are two exceptions in which the timeframe for your submission can be extended. If you find out the vehicle you bought has been stolen, you have 365 days to submit. The other eligible extension is if you’ve received a vehicle without a title or you learn of an undisclosed lien. In that case, you have 90 days to submit your request.
After submitting a request, you will generally receive a determination within 45 days from eBay, which will provide contact information for the VPP admin. That person will respond within a few days to discuss options, ask for additional information, and start reviewing your situation. Be sure you have all your paperwork and everything that transpired well-documented. It will be up to you to prove your case and illustrate why you're eligible for the vehicle purchase protection program.
After requesting reimbursement, you have two weeks to provide estimates from two approved service providers, which will be covered at your expense (if applicable). Before any determination is made on your request, you have to get the APP administrator’s approval in writing to make any alterations or repairs or to sell or otherwise release possession of the vehicle, and they must have access to inspect the vehicle at any time.
Once all of that information is gathered, eBay and the VPP administrator will assess eligibility, whether a loss was endured, determine if the loss was caused by the kind of fraudulent activity that is covered, and how much the reimbursement amount will be if warranted.