Common Scams Targeting Car Sellers

If you’re selling your car on the open market, be careful. Car websites are riddled with scammers trying to take advantage of private vehicle sellers. We'll list the most common tricks and traps, along with smart steps to take for safe selling.

Here are the most common scams that target vehicle sellers:
Let's get into more detail on each of these scams, as well as on how you can protect yourself. But first, allow us to introduce a solution.

How to Stop Scams

PrivateAuto is a peer-to-peer car transaction platform that stops scams through smart technology.

Identification of buyers
Verification of buyer funds
E-signing of the bill of sale
Instant electronic payments (fee-free, unlimited in amount, available anytime, no chargebacks)

It’s easy, secure, and convenient. Experience the magic when you list your car for sale today.
Oh, and if you happen to be selling your car on another platform such as Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, you can still use PrivateAuto to close the deal and stay safe. Our DealNow bridge product allows you to start a transaction anywhere and finish it on PrivateAuto.

Now, on to the most common scams.
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One: Counterfeit Cash Scam

Counterfeiters still produce fake bills, and car sellers fall prey to them. Don’t be the person who lets your $65K Ford Raptor go to a stranger, only to find out that pile of cash is worthless.

There’s a better way to get paid in cash. Skip the grubby bills and get an instant cash transfer with PrivateAuto Pay. So much easier—and safer.

Two: Fake PayPal Payment Scam

Scammers have figured out how to mimic PayPal confirmations to trick 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 use PrivateAuto Pay. No transaction fees, no limits, and instant fund transfers.

Three: Overpayment Schemes

In an overpayment scam, the scammer gives a fraudulent cashier's check for more than the agreed-upon sale price. For example, you are selling a Ford F-150 for $50,000, and they give you a check for $55,000.

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. Even though you initially deposited the full $55,000, the bank will pull all those funds back out of your account.

You'll owe the bank $55,000, while the scammer pockets the $5,000 cash you refunded them. Never accept a check for more than the final agreed sale amount.

Four: Phishing Scams

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

Copy of driver's license
Bank account or routing numbers
Credit card details
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 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, invite the buyer to DealNow with a private link and use PrivateAuto Pay to get the deal done safely.

PrivateAuto Pay gives you escrow-like safeguards so you can sell your car conveniently, securely, and inexpensively.

Six: Test Drive Scam

In a test drive scam, a fraudster will ask to drive the car without you. Once behind the wheel, they make an illegal getaway with your car.

By the time you realize what's happening, the thief and your car are long gone. You're now a victim of vehicle theft through the age-old test drive scam.

To avoid this, never allow a stranger to test drive your car alone.

Seven: Fake Loan Scam

The fake loan scam plays on the notion that some buyers need to finance their vehicle purchase. The scammer will claim they've been pre-approved for a loan to trick you into handing over the title and keys.

Here's how it usually goes down: the scammer expresses serious interest in buying your car. "Just one thing," he says, "I need to take out a loan to cover the full purchase price."

He then provides some official-looking paperwork showing he's been pre-approved for a loan from a bank or online lender. With the proof of funds in hand, you feel confident going through with the deal.

You sign over the title and hand him the keys, expecting he'll complete the loan process and wire you the money soon after.

Never sign the vehicle title and surrender control of your vehicle until you have the actual funds in your account.

Eight: Lowball Trade-In Value Scam

Don't get tricked into accepting a dealer’s lowball appraisal. Research your car's fair market value on Kelley Blue Book or with our vehicle value calculator. Then skip the dealership and sell your car directly to an end user to get the most for it.

Private-party sales are far superior to dealer trade-ins in so many ways. Plus, PrivateAuto makes the private sale process safe, convenient, and fast.

List your car for sale to see how easy it can be.

Nine: Identity Theft Scam

While some criminals are after your money or your car, others want your identity.

Identity thieves are smooth and convincing. They reach out for additional information, saying they need it to proceed with the purchase.

They'll then ask for sensitive details like your driver's license number, social security number, or other personal data. If you foolishly provide this info, thinking it's just part of the normal process, you're setting yourself up for a world of hurt.

With those key pieces of data, the scammer can open up bank accounts and credit cards under your name. Before you know it, your identity has been hijacked and these fraudsters are racking up debt in your name while ruining your credit.
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Ten: Stolen Credit Card Scam

A supposed buyer purchases your vehicle with a stolen credit card. The payment seems to go through successfully at first. But soon the card owner sees the unauthorized charge and reports it. The payment then gets reversed. You’re left empty-handed.

Car Selling Scams FAQ

Is it illegal to sell a car without disclosing problems?

Private-party car sales are assumed to be "as is," meaning that the buyer has little recourse after the purchase.

That said, if you knowingly mislead the buyer, you may be subject to criminal or civil penalties. Keep things honest and disclose all defects upfront.

What is the safest site for private car sales?

How do I know if my car buyer is legit?

What is the safest way of accepting a payment as a seller?

Are wire transfers safe in a private car sale?

What are the signs of a fake cashier’s check?