How to Avoid Being Scammed When Selling a Car


Selling your car or truck on your own can be a financially rewarding experience, but when selling a vehicle on your own, particularly online, guard against fraud. In 2009, the 336,655 Internet fraud complaints filed in the United States had a total cost to victims of over $550 million. A significant portion of these complaints were filed by individual used car sellers. Thankfully, there are easy and inexpensive ways to avoid being scammed.

  • Never agree to sell a vehicle to someone who does not want to see it in person. The description in the online listing might contain all the information potential buyers need, but always be wary of someone who does not want to test drive the vehicle or take it to a local mechanic. The first step in the most common car buying fraud involves an interested buyer offering to purchase a vehicle without seeing it.

  • Never take a personal check. The buyer may seem like an honest person, and his excuse that he could not get to his bank in time to get a cashier's check might be legitimate, but neither of those things matter. There is too much at stake financially to allow emotions to play a role in the transaction.

  • Never allow a buyer to pay in installments. Again, the buyer may seem like an honest person who is unable to pay for the vehicle in full, but once the title is signed over to the buyer, the car is no longer yours. There is nothing that can keep the buyer from defaulting on the agreed-upon payment plan.

  • Make sure the cashier's check is legitimate. The seller can call the issuing bank to help confirm the check is real. To take it a step further, wait for the check to clear (not just appear in your account), before completing the title transfer.

  • Run a background check on the person via an Internet background check site (see Resources). Background checks provide information such as criminal record, current and previous addresses, civil court proceedings and bankruptcies.

  • Use an online escrow service (see Resources). Escrow companies help reduce the potential risk of fraud by acting as an objective third party that collects, holds and disburses funds according to instructions dictated by the buyer and seller.

Tips & Warnings

  • When transferring the title, do it in the presence of a notary.
  • The most common used car buying scam involves a buyer offering to purchase the vehicle without seeing it, and then paying for the used vehicle with a cashier's check. When the check arrives, the amount is slightly more than the asking price. The buyer is informed of this "error," and he requests a cashier's check in the amount of the excess money. The cashier's check is sent, as the buyer's cashier's check appears to be legitimate because the funds have appeared in your account. Sometimes the scam ends there; the bank determines the original check is counterfeit, and you are out the supposedly excess funds. Sometimes the scam gets worse--the buyer decides he does not want the car, and he wants his check back. A check is written in the amount of the original check minus the "excess" funds. Days later, the bank notifies you that the original cashier's check is counterfeit. The cashier's check you sent has long since been cashed, the buyer can't be located, and now you are out the entire amount of the original cashier's check.

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