People Still Falling for Easy-to-Spot Car-Buying Scams

Nissan Altima 2.5

Low miles! Only $3,000!

Smart car shoppers know how to spot scams from a mile (or 2,600 miles) away.

Craigslist, once a go-to source for posting used-car classifieds, is riddled with scammers trying to con people out of thousands of dollars. Their ploys are always the same, and the red flags are obvious. Still, due to some serious flaw in human psychology, people fall for the deal they know is too good to be true.

The Detroit News published a nice piece on the issue this week, from which I quote:

Brenda Cullen has a killer deal on Craigslist for a spotless, low-mileage Nissan Altima. But it won’t last.

A job promotion, complete with company car, has left her family with one too many vehicles, so that’s why she’s unloading the Altima for not even a quarter of its true value.

Of course, the seller says the car isn’t available for a test drive, because it’s in storage out of state. It’s priced thousands below its value, though, and will even be shipped for free along with the peace of mind of knowing the you can return it if you’re not happy. All you have to do is wire the money.

Anyone else incredulous that someone would actually fall for this?

Somehow the promise of a good deal turns off the rational part of an otherwise smart person’s brain. The scams work, as 15,000 people have complained to the FBI about losses totaling $45 million.

Obviously, the way to avoid being scammed is to not wire money to a stranger for a car you’ve never seen. Look for local used cars on DealFinder, where you can see the price and how it compares with other listings for the same make and model. Shop reputable dealers and see customer reviews. Most important, schedule a test drive and do not let the promise of a deal-of-a-lifetime transform you into a brainless piece of mush willing to send your money to someone you’ve never met.

Do you have any stories of attempted scams when buying or selling a car?


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Used Nissan Altima


  1. It’s pretty hard to catch these people but it could be done if the cops would actually be proactive about these scams. Problem is that for each one you catch, there are three more you don’t. So as the article suggests, consumers need to practice a little common sense. Before you can go into the auto listings on Criaglist, there is a table describing “how to recognize scam attempts” and the first entry is that the seller offers to ship the vehicle. There’s also a large heading on the listings themselves with information on scams. With all this information, it’s hard to see why people fall for the scams, so I guess they deserve what they get, eh?

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