One of the things that surprised me most when I first moved to Mexico was the obvious lack of used car dealerships.
When I lived in Florida, I used to drive past a dozen “buy here, pay here” places everyday on my way to work but I’ve never driven by a single used car lot where I live in Mexico. When I asked a local where the closest one was, he directed me to Cancun about an hour and a half away.
In Mexico, the majority of people buy their used cars directly from the owners in a private sale. Since these sales often involve large one-time cash payments, potential car buyers are a popular target for criminals looking to make a quick peso.
Here are some tips to reduce your chance of becoming a victim:
1. Never send money beforehand
Criminals will often request a deposit to hold the car, especially when communicating online. Never pay it.
A common trick they use is to recommend paying through a third party business that will hold the money until the transaction is complete. The business will often have a professional looking website and appear legitimate, but it is actually controlled by the crook.
2. Only meet in public places
Don’t agree to meet anywhere other than a public place with lots of people around. This is particularly important when the time comes to pay for the vehicle. Many criminals use online advertisements to lure victims to an isolated place and then rob them.
3. Carefully inspect the documents
Take your time with the documents and ask to see the original of the vehicle’s factura (similar to a car title in the States) and the tarjeta de circulación (vehicle registration).
If the seller does not have an original factura, you can accept a certified copy; however, the absence of an original should be viewed as a possible red flag.
Be sure and verify that the VIN (vehicle identification number) for the vehicle is the same one that appears on all of the documentation.
4. Ask to see the seller’s identification
Ask to see the seller’s identification and confirm that they are owner of the vehicle. If you buy the vehicle, a copy of their identification should be included in the paperwork.
5. Check to see if the factura is authentic
In the United States, each state issues vehicle titles to indicate the owner of a vehicle. It works very differently in Mexico where the proof of ownership is actually a special sales receipt (called a factura) issued by the dealership.
The vehicle facturas are printed on security paper that is very similar to the type used for vehicle titles in the U.S. Ownership of the vehicle is transferred by signing the back of the document.
If the document is lost or stolen, a certified copy can be obtained from the original dealership.
Criminals will often use fake facturas to sell stolen vehicles to unsuspecting consumers. You can verify the authenticity of a factura by running it through the following government website:
6. Check to see if the vehicle is stolen
You can run the vehicle’s information through a free government database to see if it’s reported stolen. Click HERE for more information and the link.
7. If possible, pay through a bank transfer instead of using cash
It’s never advisable to carry large quantities of cash around with you, so if possible, try to handle the payment via a bank transfer to the seller. If you have a Mexican bank account, you can do this quickly and easily from your cellphone.
Let’s Wrap This Up
I worked as a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years prior to moving to Mexico and I can tell you from experience that these types of crimes are not unique to Mexico. Criminals are using the same techniques to rob and defraud potential car buyers north of the border too. The good news is that here in Mexico, consumers have a few more online resources to help them avoid becoming a victim.