How to Spot a Craigslist Car Scam (And What Happens When You Don’t)

Craigslist is a classified ad site known for two things: great bargains and clever scams. To stop yourself from getting taken advantage of when buying or selling a car, check out these tips on what to look for to avoid a Craigslist Scam.

When Harry Harphant from Washington thought that Craigslist would be a great place to sell his 2001 Honda Prelude, he didn’t bank on losing a year’s worth of hard-earned savings. But that’s exactly what happened in December 2015.

Mr Harphant’s experience shows us just how easy it is to fall victim to a Craigslist scam. Most of you reading this probably know of someone who has ended up out of pocket thanks to a Craigslist scammer operating through a buy and sell site.

Avoid car scams online

What exactly happened?

Harry listed his car online for $3,000 with Craigslist in December. He was contacted by a man calling himself Bruce Michael, from South Carolina. Through a string of messages, Bruce said he would buy the car. He would send a check for $5,450 to cover the price of the car and shipping.

As arranged, the check arrived with Harry and he waited for a couple of days for it to clear. Then, he wired the shipping money to two people the buyer said would assist with the sale.

The next day, he discovered the check had bounced and there were insufficient funds to cover the sale. Besides the $2,400 he lost to the Craigslist scammer, he was hit with overdraft fees of $130 by his bank.

Speaking to King 5, Harry said: “I have got two kids at the house, and it doesn’t just take it out of my hands, it also takes it out of their mouths.”

Avoid car scams online

What could he have done differently?

The warning signs were there when the buyer asked Harry for money for shipping. If the buyer can’t cover the cost of shipping themselves, no matter what story they tell you, it’s a sure sign something strange is going on. Never wire any money to a buyer – they’re supposed to be sending you money!

If someone online offers to send you more money than the item is worth, step back and question the proposed transaction. Why should they trust you to fulfill your part of the bargain? The chances are, that you have more to lose than them.

It can take longer for checks to clear than you might think. Harry waited for two days, but was that long enough? It depends on your bank, the day and time the money was sent, and the amount of money. A quick call to your bank will make sure you don’t get caught out. Be aware that if a check appears in your bank account, it might still be possible for it to be recalled by the sender.

Craigslist is safest to use as a local service where you meet with the seller or buyer in person (in a safe, well-lit public space). When long-distance or overseas buyers make contact it’s safest to politely tell them you are only interested in dealing with local people, and end all contact.

Avoid car scams online

If you want to buy a car from Craigslist, carry out these checks first.

Often, online car scams start with the price. If a car is priced unusually low, it’s guaranteed to attract your attention.  There are several potential reasons for the low price:

  • The seller does not know of the car’s recommended value.
  • The seller wants to sell the car quickly.
  • The car is not in as good of condition as it should be.
  • The car is being sold as a Craigslist scam.

You can choose to move onto the next ad, or investigate further. The next step is to pay attention to the seller’s location. Is the seller based outside of the United States? Or nowhere near your town? If the answer is yes, then give this vehicle a miss. Why would someone from hundreds or even thousands of miles away want to ship to your location? Surely there are buyers much closer to them that would allow this cost to be removed. If they offer to pay for shipping, again, ask why they’re foisting this additional cost upon themselves.

Stock photos of the car are another sign that something is up. Photos taken from the manufacturer’s website are useless. As a buyer, you need to see what the product that you may be interested in buying looks like. Even if the seller has posted a few photos that look like they’ve taken them themselves, ask for more. If they make excuses as to why they can’t provide these, then it’s time to look at another car.

Watch out for sob stories. Buying and selling should be treated as a business transaction. If the seller shares information about their private life, then it could be a sign that they are preparing to scam you.

If a Craigslist ad requires the buyer to wire money, then be very careful. Services like Western Union are untraceable and are therefore a favorite of dishonest sellers. And of course, it goes without saying that you should never give out financial details (bank account information, Paypal details, Social Security Number) to anyone.

Avoid car scams online

Buying and selling cars online sounds risky, I’ll stay away…

Some people who list or buy cars on ad listing sites do get scammed. That’s a fact. There are signs to look out for that indicate a seller isn’t honest, but some of these sellers are pretty smart at coming up with new, very plausible scams.

Buying and selling a car on TRED lets you skip this hassle and stress. We check every buyer’s financial and criminal history so you can be assured they can and will pay. You won’t be bombarded with sob stories and requests to lower the price – all (anonymous) bids are dealt with through the dashboard.

When you buy a car through a listing service like Craigslist or eBay, you might be uncertain about the quality of the car, especially if you opt for a vehicle that isn’t local to allow you to test drive before buying. Every car on TRED must pass a 150-point vehicle test that guarantees its safety and quality. Plus, there are warranties in case anything might go wrong.

There’s no need to trust that the person on the other side of the screen is who they say they are, and will honestly fulfill their side of the deal. When you use TRED, all risk is removed. The buyer wires the money to us, then we wire it to the seller. Then we come and pick up the car, provide all paperwork, and deliver it to the buyer.

Phew, that’s good to know. Where do I sign up?

Sell your car for thousands more than Craigslist or the dealer with TRED. Sell my car

3 thoughts on “How to Spot a Craigslist Car Scam (And What Happens When You Don’t)

Add yours

  1. Everybody love good deal. But, price is so low be aware. I think my husband just spot scamer in tractor sales.

  2. We have been trying to sell my stepdaughters call & decided to try Craigs list. We got a hit from a guy who backed out but returned a few days later. He Passed himself as Wayne Nertz. He asked if he paid full price of the car & sent shipping charges as well to hold the vehicle for him till he is done taking care of his dying grandmother with cancer. Oh and the check would be certified. My husband thought well after all it is a certified check how bad can it be, I smelled a rat in the woodshed. So my husband asked where he was from & he saif Florida, we live in Texas (RED FLAG). The car really is not even worth much at all & he never tried to negotiate at all. Something did not smell or feel right so we never took the deal. Boy they find ways that I can’tneven think of.

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