Private sellers on FacebookPrivate sellers on Facebook


Trading Standards warns of dangers of buying from used car dealers posing as private sellers on Facebook

  • Trading Standards officers fear Facebook isn’t doing enough to protect consumers
  • Too many traders are pretending to be private sellers to dodge their legal rights
  • Comes as cost of living crisis pushes more buyers to find cheap used cars on social media sites

Time 7:36 am, January 17, 2024

Trading Standards officers have warned of a growing number of rogue car dealers pretending to be private sellers flogging dodgy used cars on social media sites.

In an exclusive interview with Car Dealer, Trading Standards officers said they have seen a large number of used car dealers use sites like Facebook to advertise cars privately – and the problem is getting worse.

These cars often have hidden faults and offer the buyers no chance of redress when things go wrong, unlike when bought from a legitimate car dealership.

Chris Hill, senior investigations officer for National Trading Standards, explained he had conducted a probe of more than 2,500 car adverts on Facebook in Wales and found that they had been posted by just 432 users.

Hill said one of those users had advertised some 90 cars during the six-month period they looked at and was ‘clearly a motor trader’. More than 100 of the users advertised more than 10 cars on the social media site.

Dealers must, by law, clearly label adverts as ‘trade’ so consumers know they have consumer rights – such as returning faulty cars or getting problems fixed. 

National Trading Standards told Car Dealer it believes this is now a widespread problem across the UK and is pressing Facebook to help weed out the traders.

Currently Facebook does not have any system to flag sellers who may be traders leading to many consumers being caught out. Facebook did not answer questions specifically around this when pressed by Car Dealer. 

Hill said: ‘This problem emerged a few years ago as we started to get a lot of complaints from people regarding vehicles they had purchased on social media.

‘These are usually for lower value vehicles – around the £500 to £2,000 mark – or what the trade likes to call “end of life cars”.

‘The problem comes when there is an issue with the car and the trader should have been liable but the consumer has nowhere to go. Some of these cars were still being sold in pub car parks and lay-bys and the buyers didn’t know who they were buying from.’

Hill said when dealers used to advertise in newspapers or classified magazines they had to label these adverts as ‘trade’ and the publishers were liable too if they failed to do so. He believes Facebook should do more to highlight traders posing as private sellers.

‘We would like Facebook to ensure that traders mark themselves up as traders so that when consumers have a problem they ultimately know who they are dealing with and know that they have their statutory rights,’ he said.

‘In the old days, because newspapers had been prosecuted, they were aware of their legal duties as publishers, but I think that perhaps Facebook doesn’t quite see themselves as publishers,’ he added.

‘To me, that’s exactly what they are – a publisher. They’re publishing somebody’s thoughts, and, in this case, they’re publishing those adverts.’

Hill said that Facebook was ‘liaising’ with National Trading Standards but wanted to see ‘more evidence of a pattern’ of this problem nationally before it did anything more.

Hill advises consumers to check what sellers have sold previously on Facebook and if there is a history of lots of car sales they should be wary.

‘Often the people buying these cars are using their last few hundred pounds to do so, so when it goes wrong it is a huge problem for them,’ he added.

‘That’s why we have investigated this and highlighted the problem to both consumers to beware of and traders to ensure they are operating within the law.’

Hill explained that National Trading Standards visited many of those advertisers who they believed were motor traders and in some cases this led to prosecutions. 

‘The simple rule is: If you are a trader you need to make sure your adverts identify yourself as such,’ he said.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment specifically about traders posing as private sellers on its platform. 

However, a spokesperson for parent company Meta, said: ‘This is an industry-wide issue and scammers are using increasingly sophisticated methods to defraud people in a range of ways including email, SMS and offline. 

‘We don’t want anyone to fall victim to these criminals which is why our platforms have systems to block scams, financial services advertisers now have to be FCA authorised to target UK users and we run consumer awareness campaigns on how to spot fraudulent behaviour. 

‘People can also report this content in a few simple clicks and we work with the police to support their investigations.

‘If someone believes they have spotted content or an account they believe to be fake, they can report it using our in-app tools. We have a trained team of reviewers who check these reports 24/7 and move quickly to remove content or accounts which violate our guidelines.’

James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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