Online scammers are exploiting the ULEZ expansion on Facebook to lure unwilling victims into parting with cash for luxury cars they will never see.
Fraudsters are copying the photos and details from real car adverts on sites such as Auto Trader, Gumtree and eBay and posting them on Facebook Marketplace.
The legitimate-looking posts promise top-end cars such as BMWs, Audis and Mercedes for knock-down prices, usually around £5,000, under the guise of having acquired them at ‘auction’.
Many of the cars are listed in London as ULEZ compliant Euro 6 diesels produced from September 2015 onwards – in what is thought to be a bid to cash in on desperate Londoners looking for compliant motors in order to dodge the £12.50 daily fee after it was expanded to Greater London.
But while the cars are real, the scammers’ listings are not – and the swindlers will simply disappear with the money after it is handed over.
A genuine Auto Trader advert for a Mercedes-Benz GL Class SUV – the luxury car for sale for just under £27,000
But scammers have stolen the pictures and details from the listing and listed them on Facebook marketplace for a fraction of the price
Fraudster immediately try to take the conversation off of Facebook in order to dodge its scam-detecting filters
Pictures and descriptions are lifted wholesale from legitimate adverts. Because the cars themselves are real, they appear on MOT-checking databases, giving the scam legitimacy
Most of the adverts adverts follow the same template – in some cases explicitly labelling the cars as Euro 6 and therefore ULEZ compliant
Would-be car buyers looking for a ULEZ bargain are being warned to steer clear – as it emerged that real businesses were having their names dragged through the mud by crooks trying to swindle those looking for a bargain.
MailOnline contacted several sellers on Facebook Marketplace claiming to offer cheap luxury cars in London – all of whom responded within seconds, demanding that we email them for more information.
Scammers seek to take the conversation off of Facebook to avoid the company’s scam-detecting algorithms – against Marketplace rules.
When we sent them emails, the responses were almost identical: with promises that the cars were in ‘great condition’, located at a remote warehouse, ‘ready to be transported’.
‘We acquired this vehicle from an auction, this is why the lower price,’ several of the emails say.
‘Since we are dealing mainly with transportation, please note that we don’t schedule inspections/pick up at/from our location, but we sell the vehicle with a 5 days money back guarantee.’
Requests to view the vehicles were fobbed off – and when we confronted one of the sellers with a copy of the real car advert they had stolen, they stopped responding.
Each fake ad is packed with detail to give it an air of legitimacy: from mileage and MOT expiry dates, which correspond to the real car in the pictures, through to the appropriation of legitimate company names in email correspondence.
Even the Facebook profiles that upload the listings to Marketplace look real, with family pictures and comments. Cybersecurity experts believe the profiles are real, but have had their passwords stolen by fraudsters.
And the photos are usually pinched from listings for motors that have just been sold – meaning the real advertisements have been pulled and can’t usually be traced on search engines, which would expose the hoax.
Scammers are constantly adapting their tactics to make their cons look as appealing as possible, according to Harry Kind, an expert at consumer rights body Which?.
The scammers send professional-sounding emails, promising five-day money-back guarantees and assurances over the transaction
The cars are real – and can be checked against MOT and car history databases. However, the scammers don’t own them and will make off with the cash if it is handed over
A real advert for a BMW 1-Series hatchback on eBay from a car dealership in Birmingham
And the fake advert on Facebook, claiming to offer the car in London for a fraction of the price
Mr Kind said: ‘Scammers are always on the lookout for new ways to part people from their hard-earned cash and unfortunately, the ULEZ expansion is no exception.
‘If you see a deal for a ULEZ-compliant car on social media which looks too good to be true, unfortunately it probably is.’
Ada Bsiz, who came across some of the adverts on Facebook, said: ‘I was nearly stung by this scam.
How to spot a fake car advert on Facebook
- Deceptively low price – usually a fraction of the market value, which can be checked by entering the registration number on a valuation website such as Parkers
- Demands that you email for more information to take the conversation off of Facebook – this is an attempt to circumvent the platform’s scam-detecting algorithms
- The cars will be described as being ‘stored’ at remote warehouses and cannot be viewed before the sale
- A demand to pay for the car upfront, unseen. Scammers will make promises of a ‘money-back guarantee’ and an ‘inspection period’ to make sure you are happy with the car after transferring cash
- Check the seller’s other Facebook Marketplace listings – are they also offering dozens of other similar cars at suspiciously low prices?
‘I was looking to buy a car on Facebook. I looked up Mercedes cars sellers in the London area, and found some very nice low-mileage 2015, 2016 luxury models going for around £5,000.
‘Upon checking the MoT and other details online, I discovered that all of them were advertised for sale a few weeks earlier at between £18,000 and £22,000, which would be their true value.
‘I have tried to block many of these ads but Facebook only blocks them for me. I could not find a way to register a complaint about this scam with Facebook.’
However, the scam is also being pushed in Marketplace groups elsewhere in the country.
Evan Owen, from a village in Gwynedd, Wales, said he had almost been scammed several times by con artists offering cars and car parts on Marketplace.
Mr Owen, who said he had even resorted to emailing Meta boss Nick Clegg out of frustration, said: ‘Facebook have ignored all me reports of scams and I’ve heard nothing back from email providers regarding ‘abuse’, not heard from the fraud authorities either.
‘No response from Nick Clegg at Meta. Facebook Marketplace should be shut down.’
Banks have hit out at Meta – which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram – for refusing to accept responsibility for its part in enabling online scammers, calling on them to fund compensation schemes for those who lose cash.
Research published by banking industry group UK Finance in May found that £1.2 billion was lost to fraud in 2022, with nearly 80 percent of all cons that involved transferring cash to a scammer starting online.
Jake Moore, global cybersecurity advisor at internet safety firm ESET, said that Facebook’s automatic moderation tools should detect when items are fake – but that scammers are learning how the tools work and circumventing them.
By the time Facebook plays catch-up, it is likely that scammers will have made off with thousands.
Mr Moore said: ‘These con artists are professionals who will do everything they can to pressure prospective buyers into sending deposits in very manipulative ways.
A real advert for a diesel Skoda Karoq crossover on Auto Trader – for £9,800
And the fake advert that has stolen every detail – from photos to the real car’s mileage – but claims the car is in London for just £3,000
Each of these listings for high-end luxury saloons and ULEZ-friendly vans were posted to Facebook Marketplace by a single profile – every single one is a scam
It is thought that scammers are touting ULEZ-compliant diesels in London amid a rush by Londoners to snap up bargain vehicles that dodge the £12.50 charge
Those who have almost fallen victim to the scam say reports to Facebook are rarely acted on
However, Mr Moore also believes the social media giant could be doing more to combat fake listings – but may be reluctant to do so because it would be cutting into its own lucrative advertising revenues from displaying other ads on Marketplace.
He added: ‘Marketplace is a huge part of Facebook’s business – it’s one of the components that keeps people having a Facebook account and they are desperate to keep people on it.
‘They will do small amounts to limit scams but I don’t see them reducing it to zero because they can display adverts on these listings – so the best they offer is buyer awareness and putting warnings up.
Top tips to dodge the ULEZ scammers
1. Always arrange to see the vehicle in-person
Fraudsters will often steal photos and videos from legitimate car sellers and use them to create fake listings in online marketplaces. The best way to know if a seller really owns the vehicle they’re claiming to sell is to arrange a viewing and see it for yourself.
2. Avoid making bank transfer payments to anyone you don’t know and trust
Instead, use services like PayPal, or a credit/debit card, as they will offer you more protection if things go wrong.
3. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
If you come across a vehicle being sold online at an unbelievably good price, but the seller cannot do in-person viewings, and they’re also asking for payment via bank transfer…. It’s probably a scam.
‘We saw it with cryptocurrency scams, and there was much made of the fact these were adverts Facebook was happy to take the money for while burying their head in the sand.’
Those who are duped into parting with thousands of pounds for non-existent cars aren’t the only victims in the scam.
London-based lorry driver Tony Kelly has been unwittingly roped into the scam after fraudsters started using the name of his haulage firm, A J Kelly Transport Ltd, in their emails, including in some messages to a MailOnline reporter.
In the last week, the lorry driver of 30 years has been contacted several times by people to ask when he began transporting cars.
But in reality Mr Kelly, a widower who once had plans to turn his firm into a haulage empire until he lost his wife to cancer, delivers fresh fruit and veg.
He is furious at Facebook, which he says is doing nothing to prevent the fraudsters from posting hundreds of fake adverts on Marketplace.
Mr Kelly said: ‘I’ve reported it to the police fraud guys, and I’ve tried to get hold of Facebook to find out who to complain to.
‘There are thousands of these adverts. I reported about seven of them but I’ve given up trying.’
The haulier found out his company’s name was being used deceptively last week [Sunday September 3] when a friend phoned him up out of the blue, asking if he was facilitating the delivery of a car he was about to hand over cash for.
The only theory he has for why the scammers have ‘borrowed’ his company’s details is because his business address, in Orpington, Kent, is on the same site as a luxury used car business trading in Ferraris, Rolls Royces and other top marques.
He continued: ‘My friend phoned and asked if I was going to deliver his car and I told him: ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I do refrigerated transport. I’m just a single person that drives a truck.
‘It’s quite frustrating – and there’s nothing out there telling you how to stop it, nothing on Facebook to say how you can contact them.
‘It’s the people who lose money I’m worried about. I know some people aren’t falling for this, but there are going to be people fooled by this s***, and it scares me that some people are taken in by it. It’s a shame and it needs to stop.’
Cybersecurity expert Jake Moore says the con artists behind scams such as those on Facebook Marketplace are ‘professionals’ using every trick in the book to swindle innocent victims
Businesswoman Sarah Louise Darby. The name of her customs firm, InterCarry Couriers, has been appropriated by scammers to legitimise their cons
Tony Kelly’s transport firm A J Kelly Transport Ltd has been falsely implicated in scams after fraudsters appropriated the firm’s name in emails to would-be victims
Sarah Louise Darby, who runs InterCarry Couriers, a Staines-based firm that deals with customs clearances, is also furious at scammers misleadingly using her company name.
She wrote: ‘Another lucky escape for another caller to my business today. Managed to save him from circa £6k loss to the scam.
‘Other names used in these scams seem to also be that of other genuine individuals and logistics companies, who are likely unaware.
‘However this is how the scammer gets you! By illegally using the names of real entities, so when you Google it you think its a real company, no matter how small.
‘Myself and other named individuals/company names continue to get dragged through the mud – please know that we have nothing to do with any of it.’
Experts say that the advice for car buying remains the same as ever: insist on viewing the car, and if a significant deposit is demanded beforehand, walk away.
Harry Kind, from Which?, added: ‘You should always view cars advertised online in person before purchasing to ensure it is as advertised and in working order.
‘No legitimate seller will demand a significant deposit before allowing you to inspect the car so treat this as a red flag if it’s something you are asked for.
‘If you are in any doubt that an online deal is genuine, don’t click on any links in the post or give any personal information.’
‘If you or a loved one do fall victim to a scam then contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud or Police Scotland.’
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, added: ‘Whatever the reason for buying a used car, would-be owners need to make sure they aren’t taken for a ride when it comes to buying.
‘Using authorised dealers provides peace of mind, but if you consider buying the car privately then you need to protect yourself.
‘You should always see the car in person in good weather and check the vehicle log book (V5C) matches the address you are viewing the car.’
Hours after we contacted Meta for a response, a number of profiles listing fake cars were removed from Facebook and their Marketplace listings were pulled. Others remain active.
A Meta spokesperson said: ‘Fraudulent activity is not allowed on our platforms and we take action on violating content when we become aware of it.
‘We continue to invest heavily in new technologies to tackle this industry-wide issue, and encourage people to report activity like this to us and the police, so we can take action.’
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.