Spotting scam vehicle listings on marketplace(s)

Dave House
6 min readOct 9, 2023


First off, it needs to be recognised that many marketplace websites have large dedicated teams and features that stop a considerable amount of fraudulent listings going live in the first place.

If you think there’s a lot of fraudulent listings on a particular marketplace, I can almost guarantee it’s a drop in the ocean to what would have gone live without these processes or teams in place.

However…there are always fraudulent listings that made it through. The more popular the marketplace, the more there will be, especially if listing is free.

The problems with recognising fruad is that fraud teams cannot be experts in everything. Sometimes it is near impossible for someone without expert knowledge on the item to recognise the issue. Sadly a lot of listings people report come back as “this meets our community guidelines” with no way to actually engage in a conversation.

As someone reporting fraud, it’s hard to believe that anyone would bother to report anything that wasn’t fraud. However they do. In some competitive circles, like motors it’s not unheard of that both dealers and consumers have reported other listings and sellers as fraudulent so their item has less competition. It’s not always straight forward thing for customer service to deal with.

So if listings do end up staying up for longer than they should what are the common things to look out for?


They say, if it’s too good to be true it probably is. This is absolutely the case with fraudulent listings. Almost all will be below the expected value but never an inconceivable amount.

Remember not all buyers are aware of price ranges, especially on niche items like classic cars. Try explaining to someone with no prior knowledge that a mint 70s VW Super Beetle is worth less than a VW Beetle from the 50s that looks like it’s been on the bottom of a scap pile for 20 years.

Fraudulent listers can actually change the expected price of a vehicle just by listing multiple items of the same type. If there are 20 listings for old Campers at £5k a consumer is less likely to consider the one they reply to as low. This leads on to the next point.

Sellers other items

Members of the public do not normally list 20–50 cars for sale at once. If they’re a real dealer there are ways to confirm this outside of the platform. It’s also usually obvious when they are legit as they may have their own websites, accounts on other platforms that can be cross referenced or even their own photo overlay.

If you suspect a listing always look at their other listings.

  • Are they all too cheap?
  • Do they contain an unusual mix of vehicles — usually they go for a lot of niche items, campervans, tractors — stuff they know will be desirable to certain audiences but hard to validate
  • Are all the photos of their listings taken in different places? Genuine car dealers normally take their photos the same way, in the same place for every listing

In my experience they will almost always have multiple items. It would not be worth wasting the seller profile to potentially only run one scam.

Seller profile

Fraudsters will use a mixture of account take overs (real accounts they’ve phished or hacked) or fake accounts. Just because the seller has been on the platform for a long time and has good feedback is not reason enough to trust someone. Only in combination with other investigations.

There are some really obvious fake profiles with no history but I tend to find these are less common.

It’s not unheard of for fake profiles to be maintained over months to make the look like real profiles, however they will not really hold up under any scrutiny.

Try not to “out” people on social media for being fraudsters based on marketplace listings. They are either not real people, or someone who has genuinely had their account taken over and have nothing to do with it.


Beyond looking at the image style / location to see if there is anything common about them, there’s lots of information you can get from photos.

The first thing you should do is a reverse image search. This is the process of searching the internet for an image through uploading one or posting a URL. Google image search allows you to do this, make use of it.

So often if you paste the URL of an image into Google Image search you will find the original listing they they copied. Beware that if there isn’t a direct match Google will show you images “like” the one you have search for. Look for the details.

One ploy fraudsters use is to try and get you off the platforms messaging system and on to SMS / Phone. Putting their phone number in one of the photos is a common place tactic. You’ll find that usually it’s a random image of a piece of paper or an overlay over one of the images.

Some genuine sellers also do this when they don’t like messenger or don’t want to check the multiple platforms they’ve used individually. However consider it a big enough flag to proceed with caution.

Listing content

Ever wondered why the details are so good on items? It’s because they were genuine listings once. Fraudsters are not sitting at home writing listings. They will have an archive of previous classified listings from multiple platforms around the world. This is why you’ll see the same items over and over again. They may have archives of hundreds but potentially only 3 or 4 of one type of vehicle.

I once recorded the same listing getting added to one platform over 50 times!

On top of reverse image search, also copy chunks of the content into google and look for previous listings.


One of the common location tricks is that the listing is often in a place that will be hard for a lot of the audience to get to. For example, you are a lot more likely to trick someone out of paying in advance for a vehicle that is in the highlands of Scotland than the middle of the country or a major city on the motorway network.

This is a deeply frustrating reality for those people who are genuinely trying to sell items in these locations. It’s not reason to suspect someone if that’s the only thing that feels off.

Duplicate listings

The fraudsters tend to have multiple scame on the go at once. Often you’ll find the same item for sale multiple times, in multiple locations from different sellers.

While this would seem like a risky tactic if you imagine a lot of buyers will filter by location or sort by age of listing or distance they are not always in the same set of search results.

If you spot something you feel iffy about, copy the title and search the same site with the title of that ad with no filters applied. If you find the same ad in 5 cities from different seller accounts there’s rarely a reasonable explanation. But bare in mind, one of them — the original one, might be real. However it will likely be a different price.

The collective gut feel

Any one of the things I’ve mentioned could be genuine on their own. Every listing has to be investigated on the collective analyisis of all of these things combined. The more things you spot, the more likely it is it’s fraudulent.

It’s also possible that you could check all of these things and the item could still be fraudulent. The reason why it sometimes feels like marketplaces are “doing nothing” about this, is they cannot tip off the fraudsters to what they are and aren’t doing. Sometimes fraudsters report their own items to try and understand what will or won’t be flagged.

Let’s hope the “this meets our community guidelines” comment is just that they can’t tell you what they’ve done.

Consumer to consumer marketplaces are an awesome way to shop. Be cautious, be sceptical, try to recognise when you are putting yourself and your money at risk.