Online car buyers exposed to common car scam by criminal sellers

car scamUsers of online car buying sites such as AutoTrader, Craigslist, online newspaper classified auto ads, and other non-dealer car sites often find unbelievable good deals, only to find it was no deal at all, but a common car seller scam.

We often hear the question, “Is this a scam?” from car buyers who have found a “great deal” online. Buyers become suspicious because the price is “too good” and the payment and pickup arrangements seem a little fishy.

Cheap cars advertised on Internet sites can be scams, and it is relatively easy to spot them after the seller has been contacted, but not before. A car-for-sale ad placed by a scammer looks like any other ad — except the price is much lower than normal. They even provide pictures and VIN numbers of real cars (snagged somewhere on the Internet) to make the ads seem more believable. In short, you can’t determine if a car ad is a scam by the information in the ad itself.

If you want to avoid the inherent problems of buying on Craigslist and other online classified ad sites, use a site such as that sells discounted used cars from licensed dealers in your area.

The general way in which the car scam works is always the same, although details can vary from case to case. Here’s how it works.

How the car scam works

The seller will create a normal-looking “Car For Sale” ad on a popular website such as Craigslist. He’ll include a picture of a car he claims to be selling and post a low price, often unbelievably low. He will describe the car and its condition and may mention why the car is being sold so cheap.

After you contact the “seller” (nearly always only by email), you’ll start to hear his or “her” (they like female names) story, which always involves some unusual personal situation, and is usually very believable. Maybe he just got a divorce and needs to sell his wife’s old car. Or “her” father died and his car is being sold. Or “she” just lost “her” job and needs the money. Or he is a soldier in the Army leaving for Afghanistan and doesn’t need the car any longer. Or he works on an offshore oil rig and needs to sell the car.

Hint: The scammer has no mailing address, no telephone, not even a cell phone — only an email address. And his American English may not so great — because he’s not American.

Many of these scam stories involve a seller who claims to be out of the country or in the military, although he claims the car is still in the country somewhere and must be shipped to the buyer. In fact, most of these scammers actually are in another country, usually in Eastern Europe or Nigeria — where they can’t be found and prosecuted.

Hint: The scammer has some reason you can’t come see him or the car. He won’t even tell you where the car is, unless you’re already told him where you live. In that case, he may say the car is somewhere far, far away in a locked warehouse or sealed shipping container. In any case, you can’t actually see the car but the scammer says the car will be shipped to you, for free, for your inspection.

The seller might claim that he will use “eBay protection” with “eBay shipping” services — or PayPal or Amazon, or some other well-known service — or that your money will be “protected” by using some kind of third-party escrow or bank account for safe payment — and that you will have 5 or 10 days to decide whether to keep the car or return it and get your money back. It’s all to make the buyer feel that the deal is legitimate and safe, when it is not.

Hint: The scammer says he wants to “protect” you and your money. Actually, he wants to control exactly how your money is handled so that it goes directly to him.

Why it’s a scam

The seller’s story and explanations are all nonsense. eBay has no such program or services for cars not sold through the eBay site. Neither PayPal nor Amazon have such a service. The escrow service or bank account is not legitimate, although it might sound like it is. It’s a way for the scammer to get your money fast and then disappear.

In fact, there is no car. The picture of the car in the seller’s ad was copied from someplace on the Internet. The car might actually exist somewhere, but it doesn’t belong to the “seller.”

One way of exposing a scam is to ask the seller to email you a picture of himself standing next to the car. Of course you’ll get all kinds of excuses: “the car isn’t here right now,” the car is in a shipping container,” or “I’m in Iraq and the car is in New Jersey.” This is one of the common elements of this scam — the car and buyer are never in the same place.

This car scam will take your money and you’ll get no car.

The scam has been around for years, but many people have never heard about it, and end up learning about it the hard way.

Don’t fall for this common scam. If the deal sounds a little fishy, follow your intuition and avoid it. Find your car somewhere else.

Actual emails from scammers

This one was sent to us by Diane N.:

“If you are interested in my 2003 Mini Cooper S, it is in perfect condition, with no need for additional repairs, no scratches, dings, special marks whatsoever. It has 69,945 miles and the VIN # is : WMWRE33463TD65004. It has a clear title ready to be signed and notarized on your name.

I have the pictures hosted on the net and you can see them at : [Editor: where did they steal the nice picture?]

The car is located in Honolulu, HI. [Editor: sure it is]

The price is $2,970 including shipping costs anywhere in the continental US. There are no other costs regarding this transaction. I am selling the car because I am in the army, and my unit will be deployed to Afghanistan in December. [Editor: Sure you are in the Army, that’s what many of you scammers say]

The transaction will be closed only through a 3rd party and this way we will both be protected. [Editor: only the scammer is protected]  My time is limited due to my job in the army so I decided to use a service from ProPay. [Editor: ProPay is NOT an escrow service] To begin the transaction I’ll need your full name and shipping address, I will forward the details of our transaction to ProPay and then you will receive an invoice from them [Editor: He sends you to a fake ProPay website]. The car will be shipped insured to your location with DAS and you will have 5 days for inspection. [Editor: the car never shows up, and the seller disappears from the face of the earth, along with your money]

  Thank you,
       Laura Plummer [Editor: a nice girly name for a scumbag scammer]”

Here’s one shared in an email to us by Nathan J.:

“Thanks for your mail, I think am happy with your price.  I wish to complete the payment soon so I can assume the new owner of the vehicle. [Editor: why don’t these scammers learn good English?]

Actually I bought a vehicle from a seller in Atlanta GA at the price of $26,000 and I sent payment to him, on getting to the pick up, my shipper and agent [Editor: they always have an “agent”] discovered that the vehicle has had an accident before and the seller did not inform me of this so I had to cancel the transaction.

I have informed him that I have seen another vehicle with a lesser price and have instructed him that he will be sending the funds to you and he accepted, though he said that he will deduct $100 from the total funds as the listing expences [Editor: learn to spell, Mr. Scammer] since he will place the vehicle to the Advert [Editor: what is he saying?], he also told me that his credit union allows a refund payment on one cashier’s check only [Editor: that’s what they all say].

So, He will be sending the whole funds($26,000) to you. Since your vehicle,is cheaper ($16,599), the difference ($9,401) would be used to offset shipping charges and other expences. [Editor: learn to spell, Mr. Scammer] You will have to deduct your price once payment gets to you. [Editor: why would anyone send $9401 extra money to someone he doesn’t know and has never met???]

I will advice my shipper and agent to contact you for the pickup as soon as you receive the payment. and other necessary documents will either be collected from you at the point of pick-up or sent via fedex courier to me.

Confirm this and provide 1)Name (cheque will be made payable to), 2)Address ( the check will be delivered to) and Phone number for check payment to be delivered to you via registered mail.

Thanks for your understanding hope to hear from you soon” [Editor: I’m sure you do, you scumbag]

Here is another from Diane N.:

“I am emailing you regarding the VERY Nice 2004 HONDA ACCORD EX, that I have for sale on Craigslist, I sell it at this price ($4000) because i just finished the divorce with my husband and i don`t have drivers license. [Editor: sure, nice story Ms. Scammer — brings tears to my eyes]

The vehicle looks and works perfect. As you see it has a lot of options. No hidden problems and never involved in any kind of accidents, ONLY 55,100 miles. The VIN# is: VIN: 1HGCM56664A149427 [Editor: VIN picked up on the Internet somewhere. It is a real car, but doesn’t belong to scammer]

Since the car was also listed on [Editor: maybe so, but it’s not your car Ms. Scammer], I prefer closing the transaction trough their Vehicle Purchase Protection system [Editor: no such eBay system for Craigslist cars] because we are both protected. If you don’t know how does the eBay Vehicle Purchase Protection Program work please let me know so I can help you.

I used it several times (as a seller but as well as a buyer) and everything was perfect.
The vehicle was inspected by eBay. [Editor: eBay does not inspect cars] as well, shipping & handling fees are included in the final price ($4.000.00). If you want to see more pictures please click here:Honda Accord . [Editor: nice picture — if only it was really your car Ms. Scammer]

If you are interested please let me know your shipping details so i can open a transaction case. {Editor: a what???]

     (signed) Theresa Robinson [Editor: again, nice cute girly name for a scammer]”

Avoid buying cars you can’t see

In fact, it’s not a good idea, scam or no scam, when you can’t actually see the car, can’t drive it, can’t have it inspected by a mechanic, and can’t talk directly to the seller. Scammers tempt buyers to take the risk by offering unrealistic low prices and offering a “money back guarantee” — hoping buyers will be blinded by the unbelievable deal.

A better way to find cars online

If you want to avoid scams and the problems of buying cars on eBay and Craigslist, use a web site such as that only sells already-discounted used cars from licensed used-car dealers. The big advantage is that  you can see the car, inspect it, drive it, deal with a known seller.

Another kind of car scam – buyer scam

If you found this article looking for information about another kind of car scam, a scam against individuals selling a used car, not buying one, then you want to read the article, Car Buyer Scam.


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