Four Scams to Avoid When Selling a Used Car

On Friday, June 26th, 2015

Buying and selling used cars has never been easier or cheaper.

With sites like Gumtree and eBay allowing you to find buyers both locally and nationally, more and more people are choosing to sell their cars privately.

While this works out great for many people, it potentially opens up the opportunity for scammers to rip you off.

And many have been. If you are selling your car privately here are four of the most common scams to look out for.


  1. Escrow fraud

An escrow is a bond, payment or document that is held by a third party with the intention of passing it on when the buyer and seller have come to an agreement and the deal is finalised.

Scammers from abroad will contact you offering to buy your car, and send you a cheque for the car’s asking price. What’s more they will also kindly cover the cost of the car’s shipping.

Once the cheque has been received, the scammer will direct you to a fake shipping company that will supposedly handle your funds to cover the cost of shipping the car. Then they will ask you to pay the shipping fees they sent you into a holding account owned by the shipping company.

However, once the money has been sent, the original cheque is revealed to have bounced and the fake shipping company becomes uncontactable.

This scam is conducted over email. It is generally advised that you only pay money towards a car you have seen and inspected in person, so serious buyers will most likely want to see your car before buying. Also, as these fraudsters are usually based abroad they can be identified by poor grammar and spelling mistakes.

  • Always be more wary when selling a car overseas.
  • Try to stick to the domestic market.
  • When dealing with cheques, make sure the cheque has not bounced before continuing with proceedings.
  1. Swap scam

Swap scams will target users of classified and auction websites such as Craigslist or eBay. Scammers will contact you posing as a potential buyer, but will suggest a trade instead of a purchase. They will offer you a car that will exceed the value of your own to make the deal hard to refuse.

In this scam, you may receive a new car. But commonly it is either on a finance deal, so the car is still owned by a financing company, or stolen.

  • Make sure you always do a full history check and background check on both the car and the seller.
  • If in doubt, do not accept a trade and wait for a more legitimate offer.
  • If anyone sends you a picture of a car, copy it into a Google image search to make sure it hasn’t been taken from a legitimate car advert.
  • And remember, if an offer seems too good to be true it probably is.

Fraudulent car buying companies

If you have listed your contact details publicly you may receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from a used car buying company. After introducing themselves, they will offer you a reasonable price for your car and direct you online to continue the sale process.

You will then receive an email with a valuation for your car and more links for you to input further personal details, such as your address, under the guise that the company will come and collect your vehicle once they’ve bought it. Finally, they ask you to send a refundable deposit to cover the cost of them picking up the car. Of course, no one comes to collect the vehicle and your deposit will never be seen again.

  • Make sure you research the company claiming an interest in your car. If they are known con artists chances are you will find details and reviews online claiming as such – just a quick Google search could save you money.
  • Never input personal details online to any website you don’t 100% trust. Even if you don’t give away bank details, any personal information leaked can contribute to your identity being stolen.

Fraudulent car buyers

A similar fraudulent technique is when scammers call you up and promise they have buyers who are looking for your model of car. Before linking you with the buyers, they ask for a matcher’s fee to cover their labour costs. More often than not, once you have paid the fee it turns out there are no buyers and you will never hear from the supposed agent again.

  • Always be wary of cold callers who ask for your information over the phone.
  • Try asking the caller to ring you back in 15 minutes to give you time to verify (or discredit) their claims. A legitimate caller will probably have no problem with this. If the caller responds by using high-pressure sales tactics, such as using arbitrary time restrictions, this is a bad sign – react with caution.

Solo test drivers

This is a more old fashioned form of scam. Recently there have been instances reported of potential buyers asking to test drive a car on their own and never returning.

  • Make sure you accompany anyone who takes your car out for a spin.
  • They may try to lure you away from your vehicle or deliberately distract you so the thief can drive away.
  • Make sure you avoid leaving your keys in the ignition and, if you can, keep them on you at all times.

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