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Nearly 100 car sellers on Craigslist were targeted with a scam in the Chicago area that left sellers without their cars and holding rubber checks, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reported. Inside a 2014 case, a young student from Southern California was stabbed to death selling a car he advertised on Craigslist.
Selling your car on the internet is a wonderful convenience, but it’s also be a feeding ground for scammers. The good thing is by using several precautions, you can avoid these traps.
Craigslist, the disposable, peer-to-peer classified website, is where you’ll find most used car bargains – and where fraudsters try to victimize gullible sellers. The internet giant eBayMotors.com also lists used cars for sale or auction but has various purchase protection programs to discourage most types of fraud.
When asked why online car sales attract shady types, Frank Scafidi, public affairs director from the NICB, answered, “In a thing, ‘anonymity.’ The web attracts a lot of attitudes, it attracts individuals who try to work their scam after which disappear into the ether.”
Automotive enthusiast Josh Sadlier, a content strategist for Edmunds.com, continues to be exchanging cars on Craigslist for a long time. He states that he’s never had someone attempt to cheat him but that he’s created a “sixth sense for when someone may be shady.” He adds that if he results in a professional-looking ad with accurate information and good photos, it tends to attract serious, knowledgeable buyers.
Despite the occasional, highly publicized crimes involving Craigslist ads, sellers flock to websites because they wish to increase the value of their car or truck quickly instead of trading it to a dealer for a lower price. While they may pocket more income, selling online also requires them to meet with strangers and, usually, arrange test drives, exchange cash and sign documents.
Here are five guidelines to help you avoid falling prey for an online scammer:
1. Profile the buyer
If your buyer is legit – and reasonable – the sale will flow smoothly. How can you check out a potential buyer without tapping FBI databases? First, consult with the buyer on the telephone. Many scammers hide behind bogus email accounts that offer no details about their whereabouts. Ask buyers to provide you with their phone number and set up a time to talk; the swindlers will quickly disappear.
Exchanging texts about purchasing a used car is normal these days, but push for any quick phone chat. As you talk with the potential buyer, focus on your intuition. When the buyer makes any unusual requests or if anything makes you uncomfortable, just watch for another buyer.
2. Stick to the money
Nearly all online scams originate from some unusual financing request in the buyer. Inside a popular scam, the fraudulent buyer supplies you with a cheque with an additional amount to ship the car. You have to pay for the shipping, send the car, and so the check bounces.
Before receiving meet, tell the mark buyer you accept only cash. When the buyer insists on paying with a cashier’s check, arrange to meet in the bank watching like a teller handles the payment request.
3. Don’t be overeager
Many scams work because of “the victim’s own eagerness to shut an offer they believe is good,” Scafidi says. So keep in mind that real buyers may have questions regarding the car and will probably wish to dicker. If you are selling your car to a person out of the area, expect that individual to arrange with a mobile plan to inspect the car.
4. Meet inside a ‘safe zone’
Because so many people are arranging physical meetings after connecting on the internet, Scafidi says police departments are coming up with “safe zones” with video surveillance. They are great places to meet prospective buyers.
Sadlier recommends that you, the seller, pick the meeting place. “You can take lots of variables out of the equation by insisting on ground rules like this,” he states. “If you feel vulnerable and you’re no automotive expert, bring a friend who is.”
If no safe zone is available, meet in a well-lit public place with lots of people around. Also, if you have any suspicions, ask to see the buyer’s license before letting her or him drive your vehicle.
5. Avoid buyers with a lot of stories
Many scams begin with pleas for help or unusual requests such as to ship a car overseas. In some instances, scammers pose as members of the military to achieve sympathy and elicit feelings of patriotism. Avoid these kinds of requests. As Scafidi says, “Slow down, inquire and do not become emotionally active in the sale.”
Philip Reed is really a staff writer at NerdWallet, an individual finance website. Email: [email protected]