Most car shoppers use the web in their research or buying process, and it usually goes off without a hitch. But there are shadowy corners of the internet that harbor scammers and crooks, and they're working hard to get your money by using fraud and fakery.

Currently, for example, scammers are using a fake Edmunds website that says we offer a cash escrow service in which we act as an intermediary between private-party car sellers and buyers.

Online car-buying scams abound, sometimes using fake versions of real websites, such as Edmunds, to lure people in.

Online car-buying scams abound, sometimes using fake versions of real websites, such as Edmunds, to lure people in.

It's not so. Edmunds does not assist in private-party transactions between buyers and sellers by holding titles, cash or vehicles. We don't ship cars either. If you encounter any such claims, please do not proceed. Instead, contact us immediately. You also can report this fraud to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center and a Federal Trade Commission site that takes fraud complaints.

Here's how the scam works: It usually begins with a car shopper spotting a too-good-to-be-true ad on a site where private parties buy and sell cars, including such places as Craigslist. When a buyer agrees to purchase a vehicle, the fraudulent seller gives the buyer a link and instructs that money be wired to the account of the escrow agent (Edmunds, in the current scam). The promise is that the escrow company will hold the cash until the vehicle is delivered. Once the cash is paid, the scammer ceases contact with the buyer. And the car is never delivered, of course. The FBI has more information about this kind of online car-shopping fraud.

Since 2010, Edmunds has received more than 400 reports of escrow scams using our name. Of those, at least 35 victims have lost money by following through with the transaction. We don't want you to be one of them.

Here are some other tips for avoiding online car-buying escrow fraud. More advice is available from the California Department of Business Oversight.

1. The seller will usually provide a website to visit and/or the seller's email address. Please keep in mind that the only official Edmunds site is edmunds.com. Check that edmunds.com is the domain, which means that edmunds.com appears at the very end of the URL or just before any forward slash.

Here is an example of an edmunds.com URL:

Here is an example of a URL that is NOT from our company:

www.edmunds.com.us.info-vehicle.com

This also applies to any email address to which you are asked to respond. If you come across a website or an email address that you believe to be Edmunds but you are unsure, please contact us at help@edmunds.com.

2. If a car deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Is someone offering a brand-new Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG for $80,000? How could that be? It retails for twice that much.

3. Try to establish telephone contact with the seller to find out where the car is. Ask to inspect it even if you don't plan to do so. Ask if the title is clear and in the seller's possession. Such questions may put off scammers.

4. Verify that the escrow company you plan to use is properly licensed. Call its phone number and ask to speak to a representative. Visit its website directly, not through a link sent to you by the seller. In California, for example, there is only one licensed online escrow company whose services are available to the general public: Escrow.com.

5. Don't give out your financial or personal information, such as a credit card number or bank account information, until you verify that the online escrow company you're using is legitimate.

6. Beware if a seller insists on using a particular online escrow company. It could be an attempt to steer you toward a fraudulent escrow services site.

7. Steer clear of sites that require users to set up accounts with online payment services. Legitimate escrow companies don't use person-to-person money transfers such as Western Union or MoneyGram or direct you to send your payment to an individual rather than a corporate entity.

8. Fake escrow company sites often display logos from the Better Business Bureau, VeriSign Secure or TRUSTe. Check to make sure the escrow company really is endorsed by these organizations.