How to Avoid Used-Car Scams


Along with the number of consumers conducting transactions online, internet fraud has increased during the past several years. Big-ticket transactions are a primary target, but that shouldn’t discourage you from selling your used car on your own. Go for it, but exercise caution and educate yourself about a potential scam.

Related: Stopping Fraud in Car Sales

Please note that does not involve itself in the transaction between the car’s buyer and seller. Additionally, watch out for the following ways consumers can be lured into a scam:

Scams Involving Checks

In a typical vehicle scam, the scammer — who usually inquires from overseas — arranges to pay for the car with a cashier’s or certified check in an amount that’s more than the vehicle’s purchase price. The scammer justifies this by saying a previous vehicle sale fell through, or the extra money is needed to pay for shipping expenses or customs fees on the car. Note that the initial — and even, perhaps, all subsequent — contact from this type of scammer is via text message or email, with excuses provided for a lack of phone communication.

The scammer then asks the car’s seller to wire the difference either to him or to the shipping company to cover expenses. Or the scammer will send a cashier’s check as a deposit, then decide to back out of the deal and ask the buyer to wire the funds back.

When asked to wire funds back to any buyer, just say no. It’s never a good idea to wire money to someone you don’t know on a used car because it’s an untraceable transaction. Avoid negotiating with anyone who proposes this kind of deal.

Third-Party Transaction Services

PayPal and Google Pay Send are examples of legitimate service providers for third-party transactions, but fake representations of these companies’ products are often used as a cover to commit fraud.

One common scam is for a fraudulent buyer to request purchase of a used car without ever seeing it, claiming it is “priced favorably.” Fraudulent buyers typically confirm the car’s asking price, ask for photographs and whether there have been any repairs to the vehicle. Upon the seller’s response, the fraudulent buyer then tells the seller that a particular third-party service is the most secure way to conduct online transactions and asks for the seller’s third-party service account details.

At this point, the scammer will often, as with the cashier’s check scam, explain that payment has been arranged in excess of the car’s selling price and instructs the seller to return the overpayment via Western UnionMoneyGram or another way to transfer funds. Unfortunately, the victim of this scam does not learn that the PayPal account or other third-party transaction was fake until after the successful money transfer of the overage.

Be sure to verify the identity of the seller as well as the payment method — PayPal or otherwise — before initiating a transaction, and avoid selling a car to anyone whose identity you can’t verify. Always exercise caution when anyone wishes to purchase your car without seeing it or negotiating on the price, as it could be a scam.

If you have any concerns about the legitimacy of a transaction process or a car buyer, please contact the Fraud Prevention team at And for more on how to shop smart for a used car, check out the video below.’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

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