9 Online Car Buying and Selling Scams to Avoid

A Busy Street Among Palms

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, nearly 100 car sellers on Craigslist were targeted by a scam in the Chicago area. It left them without their cars and holding rubber cheques. 

Selling your car online is very convenient, but it’s also become an experience that’s rife with scammers. It’s forecast that 6 million cars will be sold around the world in 2025, an increase of more than 600% from 2019. Buying a car online may save you money, but it’s important to keep your wits about you if you want to avoid online car-buying scams. 

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Scams to watch out for when buying a car online

Here are some of the most common buying used car online swindles to look out for, as well as some tips on how to avoid them. 

Fake ads

It has been known for crooks to advertise cars they don’t own. The ads might look legitimate because they feature images of a car that matches the ad's description. There might also be an email address or phone number given as contact details. 

If you want to reduce the risk of getting caught out by a fake ad, ask for details about the car such as the vehicle identification number (VIN). Also, if a seller refuses to let you inspect the car or meet in person, take this as a red flag and walk away. 

Gift card rip-offs

Another trick that a scammer might use is to insist you pay for the vehicle with gift cards. This is a warning you should heed. Never purchase a car with gift cards. It will be the last you see of the gift cards, and you won’t see the car you were hoping to buy either 

Fraudulent wire transfers

If a seller asks you to pay for a car through a wire transfer, politely refuse and walk away. The reason you should pay using a wire transfer is that it will be exceedingly difficult to recover your money if the deal turns out to be a fraud. 

Title washing

Title washing is a fraudulent process whereby a car’s history is washed away. Information that a fraudster might choose to hide could be severe damage sustained in a car wreck or masking other critical information. 

This type of scheme is illegal and often carried out in the sale of a used car. To avoid becoming the victim of title-washing, order a report that gives you a clear picture of a vehicle’s history before you buy it. 

Curbstoning

Curbstoning is selling used cars without holding the required license or permit and without having a regular place of business. Curbstoning deals might take place in a vacant parking lot, along the side of the road, or at the curb in front of a home.

Typically, a curbstoner will sell damaged or salvaged vehicles to unsuspecting buyers and then disappear. They won’t provide any contact information so you can’t get hold of them if there’s a problem. 

To avoid getting caught out by this type of fraudster, do business only with reputable sellers you’ve thoroughly checked out in advance. 

Scams to watch out for when selling a car online

Here are some of the most common selling your car online scams to be aware of and how you might avoid getting scammed. 

Identity theft

A scammer that uses identity theft doesn’t care about buying your car. All they’re interested in is stealing your identity. How do they do this? They ask for personal information such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, or car maintenance records. 

Be incredibly careful when giving this type of information to anyone who says they want to buy your car or accept a trade-in. Before you hand over any car maintenance records, make copies and black out any personal information. 

Fake escrows

In this scam, a fraudster poses as a buyer and uses a fake escrow service to hold money for the car purchase. The seller turns over the car title only to find they can’t withdraw the escrow money. You can prevent this from happening by choosing a reputable escrow service yourself. 

Payment plans

A scammer might try to pose as a buyer and offer to make car payments over time. They’ll take possession of the car and make a few payments, but then disappear with the car and stop paying. 

To get the rest of your money there are few options. The best way to avoid getting caught by car-selling scams online in this way is to never agree to a payment plan when you’re selling a car. 

Personal checks or cashier’s checks

Always take care if you’re thinking about accepting a personal check or cashier’s check as payment. If you then turn over the title before the check clears, you run the risk of finding out the check is fake and it’s too late to do anything about it. 

Before you sign over the title to your car, contact the financial institution that issued the check and make sure it’s legitimate. 

What to do if you are a victim of an auto scam

As you can see there are numerous buying and selling a car online scams to be aware of. Should you find yourself a victim of an online car selling or purchasing scam, consider taking the following steps:

  1. Contact your local Better Business Bureau and your state attorney general’s office
  2. Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission
  3. File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center
  4. If you provided personal information to the scammer, think about changing any relevant usernames and passwords
  5. If the fraud involved a wire transfer, reach out to the company that handled the transfer
  6. Monitor your credit reports to check for suspicious activity tied to identity theft

Now you know a little bit more about how to sell a car online without getting scammed you shouldn’t be so worried about the process. When you’re buying a car online, remember we can help you get it home again, with our reliable auto transport services.  

It’s not as expensive as you think, and you can check out the cost with our instant online quote calculator. 

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Alternatively, speak with our shipping advisors at (864) 546-5038 or via Live Chat. They’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have. 

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