Beware These Craigslist Car Scams

Craigslist has a lot of buyers and a lot of cars for sale. Its large reach connects buyers and sellers, but the platform doesn't do a lot to help them transact easily and safely.

Scammers abound on Craigslist, taking advantage of a lack of consumer protections. There’s a much safer way to buy and sell used cars.
We’ll show you a solution that makes private-party transactions safe and easy. Read on.

Craigslist Scams Targeting Sellers

While many Craigslist scams target buyers, private sellers are also vulnerable to fraudulent activity. Scammers are constantly evolving their tactics to take advantage of unsuspecting sellers.

Here are some common scams that sellers should be aware of:

1. Counterfeit payment scam
2. Fake PayPal scam
3. Overpayment scams
4. Phishing scams
5. Fake escrow scams
Image highlighting DealNow by PrivateAuto

One: Counterfeit Payment Scam

The counterfeit payment scam involves fraudsters using counterfeit money to pay for a car during an in-person transaction.

It’s better to not deal in cash payments with strangers. Instead, invite the buyer to DealNow and enjoy our smooth deal flow, privacy safeguards, and instant payment transfers.

Two: Fake PayPal Payment Scam

PayPal is a popular way of getting paid, but scammers have figured out how to mimic PayPal confirmations to dupe sellers.

Real PayPal emails use your full name and don't ask for personal info. Always log in to verify payments directly.

Stay vigilant for fake PayPal emails. Verify through your account and consider DealNow as a much better alternative. No transaction fees, no limits, and instant fund transfers.

Three: Overpayment schemes

This trick starts with the buyer sending a cashier's check for more than the agreed-upon sale price. For example, you are selling a Jeep Gladiator for $40,000, and they give you a check for $45,000.

The scammer will plead with you to refund the $5,000 overage back to them right away, often claiming it was an innocent mistake. They may spin an elaborate story to convince you.

But a few days later, that cashier's check will bounce when the bank discovers it's a counterfeit check. Even though you initially deposited the full $45,000, the bank will pull all those funds back out of your account.

You'll owe the bank $45,000, while the scammer pockets the $5,000 cash you refunded them. Never accept a check for more than the final agreed sale amount. Insist that any overpayments get corrected on their end.

Four: Phishing Scams

A phishing scam starts with a supposed buyer contacting you about a listing. They request sensitive information such as the following:

Bank account or routing numbers
Credit card details
Copy of driver's license
Social security number

They make seemingly legitimate excuses about needing these details when in reality, they're stealing your data.

Trust your instinct—and use DealNow.

Five: Fake Escrow Services

Shady buyers will insist on using a fake escrow service to scam you. They may even create a convincing escrow site.

You agree on a price, and the buyer claims to fund the escrow service. You may even see proof that the escrow company is holding the money—but the funds are still in the fraudster’s control. After you sign over the car and give them the keys, they take off. Then the check bounces, and the scammer and their money are long gone.

Don't get duped by escrow scams. Choose a reputable escrow service yourself, rather than letting the buyer suggest one. Better yet, just invite the buyer to use DealNow and use PrivateAuto's secure instant payment solution, PrivateAuto Pay.

PrivateAuto Pay gives you escrow-like safeguards in the palm of your hand, so you can sell your car conveniently, securely, and inexpensively.

Craigslist Scams Targeting Buyers

Craigslist has a lot of cars for sale by owner. Sadly, the platform lacks basic safeguards, which fraudsters adore. Don't become their next victim!

Here are the five most common car-buying scams to look out for:

1. Fake site scam
2. The “just needs” scam
3. Deposit scam
4. Curbstoning scam
5. Car cloning scam

One: Fake Craigslist Site

The most common Craigslist scam is a fake Craigslist website. Scammers will create fake websites by using a similar domain name and Craigslist’s signature aesthetic. Don’t fall for it. Check the URL carefully, and only trust

Two: “Just Needs" Scam

The "Just Needs" scam is common; it involves sellers advertising cars with minor issues that supposedly just require small, inexpensive repairs.

For example, "just needs a new alternator,” or “it just needs new brakes.” In reality, the stated problem is only the surface symptom of larger mechanical troubles.

This tactic hides major defects under the guise of quick fixes. You have to thoroughly inspect and test these cars rather than just making the stated repair. Or they avoid "just needs" cars altogether, as critical flaws are often being concealed.

So be wary of too-good-to-be-true "just needs" ads. A cheap alternator replacement can't fix deeper issues. Avoid potential headaches and buy fully vetted cars instead.

Three: Deposit Scam

The deposit scam starts with sellers listing cars online or in ads at prices below market value. When you start asking about the price and payment options, the seller asks for an upfront deposit of a full payment to supposedly hold the car and take it off the market.

Once you submit the payment, the scammer ceases all contact and disappears with the money without ever providing the vehicle.

The seller preys on potential buyers' fear of missing out on a deal. But legitimate sellers will only demand deposits once a buyer inspects the car.

Avoid this scam by never paying anything until you've met the seller in person, seen the car yourself, and the seller has signed a legitimate bill of sale. Don't send deposits to strangers just to "secure" a car.

Four: Curbstoning Scam

Curbstoners fraudulently sell damaged or salvage title vehicles without disclosing them as such.

These sellers disguise defects through cosmetic touch-ups. Once you purchase one of these lemons, the curbstoner often disappears with your money.

Red flags of curbstoning include sellers advertising multiple cars with the same contact info, refusing official paperwork, and demanding cash payments. Curbstoned vehicles are often parked in high-visibility areas with “For Sale” signs.

PrivateAuto connects buyers with verified sellers. This discourages fraudsters, who prefer to hide in the shadows.

Five: Car Cloning Scam

Car cloning is when criminals use stolen vehicle identification numbers and fake paperwork to disguise a stolen or salvaged car as a legitimate vehicle.

The scammers take VINs from a similar make and model and make counterfeit titles, registrations, etc. This makes the car look like it has a clean history when it's really a cloned car.

Here are things you need to watch for:

The VIN doesn't match the vehicle branding or description
Gaps or inconsistencies in the car's ownership history
Titles from many different states for the same VIN

Run the VIN through services like NMVTIS to uncover fraud before buying. They can spot cloned cars by cross-checking the VIN against title and inventory databases.

DealNow Crushes Car Scams

PrivateAuto is the most user-friendly place to sell your car or buy a private-party used car. But we don't hate other listing sites. In fact, we’ve created a solution for users of other sites.

DealNow lets you start a deal on Craigslist and finish it with our transactional technology.

Here’s how it works:

1. Invite the other party to DealNow via a custom link.
2. Enjoy identity verification, in-app messaging, and a test drive scheduling feature (none of which require you to exchange contact info).
3. Meet for the test drive
4. You go together through a step-by-step transaction process in which you each confirm relevant details right in the PrivateAuto mobile app. From mileage to the VIN to the condition of the vehicle, we help you both prevent any errors.
5. Both of you electronically sign an official bill of sale. The buyer gets confirmation that the seller has signed and that they are safe to pay for the car since the bill of sale is a legally binding document. Both of you retain a copy of the signed bill of sale in your PrivateAuto account for reference.
6. The buyer is prompted to initiate payment via our integrated banking gateway, PrivateAuto Pay.
7. The seller gets the money instantly in their PrivateAuto Pay account and confirms receipt of payment.
8. The seller signs over the car title and hands over the keys.

DealNow is so smooth, so safe, and so fast that you’ll never want to buy or sell a car without it.
Image highlighting Buying Car Privately by PrivateAuto

Stay Vigilant

Criminals continue to develop methods to trick prospective buyers and sellers. That’s why we created PrivateAuto.

PrivateAuto offers vehicle history reports with all premium listings and also has identity verification. These measures cut down significantly on fraudsters, but it always pays to be vigilant.

Don’t let anyone rush you into selling your car or accepting a high price or paying without verifying the details. If someone gives you a high-pressure "act now or lose out" ultimatum, it's best to walk away.

When buying a car the key is taking your time—carefully inspecting the car, verifying the VIN, test driving carefully, and not paying until you're confident about going through with the transaction.

PrivateAuto helps by letting you schedule test drives securely and make payments only when terms are met. With a little patience, you can find the right car without being rushed into a fraudulent deal.

Craigslist FAQ

Is it a good idea to buy a car from Craigslist?

While it's possible to find good deals on Craigslist, it can be a risky option due to a lack of transactional security. PrivateAuto, on the other hand, offers a secure platform with more transactional features.

How do I accept a payment on Craigslist for a car?

How do I know if my car buyer is legit?

What are the red flags when buying a car on Craigslist?