Selling a Car? Watch Out for Scams

cars for sale

It used to be that selling a car meant posting an ad in the newspaper classifieds, fielding phone calls, arranging test drives, and accepting a hand-written check as payment before the buyer drove happily into the sunset.

Those days have long since been replaced by online ads resulting in text-message replies and fake checks as payment.

The vast majority of private-party used-car deals go down without a hitch, but occasionally scam artists get away with conning sellers out of thousands of dollars. How can you avoid such a fate?

CNN posted a story last weekend about a new scam hitting folks mostly in the midwestern United States. It’s a ploy that’s common in the world of private online sales, but thankfully is also easily avoidable. Here’s what happens:

The sellers are given bank checks for the purchase that appear to be legitimate, the National Insurance Crime Bureau said. But after the seller has signed over the title and given the buyer the car, they discover that the check is bogus.

Signing over the title once a check is in hand makes sense, but sellers need to take it a step further and make sure the check clears and the cash is in the bank before transferring ownership. Otherwise the unsuspecting seller could end up without a car but still being responsible for any balance owed on it.

The best way to guarantee you won’t be the victim of a scam is to trade in your car at a reputable dealership. If you decide to take on the risk of selling your car yourself, demand cash or a cashier’s check, but verify the check with the issuing bank, and don’t sign over the title until you have the cash.

Selling your car on your own can be worth the small risk, because it allows you to get the most value out of it. Listing your car on CarGurus will give you the tools to ask a fair price and give you the best odds of selling your car, to a real buyer, fast.

Have you ever had a problem with scammers when selling a car online?


Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus


  1. I’ve had my car for sale on cargurus for 10 days. They list dealership cars for more money and better deals than a private seller. Today i get a message from some dude named Yadiar and offers me 7800.00 not the 8800.00 i am asking. Ok i get that no one wants to pay asking price, who does? But this person has not even seen or driven the car. But who knows it might be legit but i doubt it. Might play along if it is a scammer and ask him to meet me somewhere 100 miles away and not show up. Too bad the cops can’t set up a sting ring for these clowns.

  2. You’re going to like this one!! – I put my car for sale on cargurus – and NEXT THING I get a message! — Charles has made you an offer. $3,500 — popping up in my inbox. He hasn’t seen the car, because no-one has yet. Scam? Well – clearly yes. But should I report the user or just ignore the offer?

    • Hello, John, and thanks for your comment. We can understand your skepticism, but as a general rule of thumb, trust your gut. Awkward language, phrases, and misspellings are all signs of scammers. Any inquiry about a car that refers to a PayPal, Amazon, eBay, or wire payment should be avoided and discarded immediately. Do not be fooled by third-party transactions that reference an “associate” or an “attorney.” Overall, when in doubt it’s best to play it safe and meet in person!

  3. I certainly understand the problems that must be involved with selling a car.

    However, I am having a horrible, horrible problem buying a YES – USED car. My budget is modest. $2,ooo tops for her 1997 car. My 85 year old neighbor and friend had such a car. When she passed, I was, above all, sad. Later when her children decided to sell the car, they ignored her request to give me a chance to buy it at a reasonable rate. No words were exchanged – I just stood by and watched her greedy family (So. CA, Newport rich) raise the rate from $1,500 to $2,000 and yet again to $3,000 – for an 18 year old car.

    I wish my friends family good luck. However, now I wish my self good luck, because I have to figure out how to find a decent car for minimum cash.

    To anyone who knows how to go about that – thanks for braving the car-front and if you ever write a how-to manual, please let me be the one to offer my admiration.

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