Greetings from the Hemet Car Guy, A friend of mine thought that Craigslist would be a great place to sell his 2003 Honda Accord; he didn’t think he’d be losing a year’s worth of hard-earned savings. But unfortunately that’s what happened.
Mike shared his experience with me and it shows us just how easy it is to fall victim to a Craigslist scam. Most of you reading this probably know of someone who has lost money thanks to a Craigslist scammer operating through a buy-and-sell site.
Mike listed his car online for $4,000 with Craigslist. He was contacted by a man calling himself George White, from Florida. Through a string of messages, George said he would buy the car. He would send a check for $6,450 to cover the price of the car and shipping.
As arranged, the check arrived and Mike waited for a couple of days for it to clear. Then, Mike wired the shipping money to two people White said would assist with the sale. (Red flag!)
The next day, he discovered the check had bounced and there were insufficient funds to cover the sale. Besides the $2,450 he lost to the Craigslist scammer for the shipping fees, he was hit with $130 in overdraft fees by his bank.
Speaking to George White, Mike said, “I told you I was trying to help cover medical costs for my sister; how can you sleep at night doing this to people!?”
The warning signs were there when the buyer asked Mike for money for shipping. If the buyer can’t cover the cost of shipping themselves, no matter what story they tell you, it’s a sure sign something unethical is going on. Never wire any money to or for a buyer – they’re supposed to be sending you money!
If someone online offers to send you more money than the item is worth, step back and question the proposed transaction. Why should they trust you to fulfill your part of the bargain? The chances are that you have more to lose than them.
It can take longer for checks to clear than you might think. Mike waited two days, but was that long enough? Probably not. It depends on your bank, the day and time the money was sent, and the amount of money. A quick call to your bank will make it clear about their check-cashing policy. Be aware that if a check appears in your bank account, it might still be possible for it to be recalled by the sender.
Craigslist is safest to use as a local service where you meet with the seller or buyer in person — in a safe, well-lit public space. Many police departments allow their parking lot to be used for to negotiate such transactions. When long-distance or overseas buyers make contact it’s safest to politely tell them you are only interested in dealing with local people, and end all contact.
Often, online car scams start with the price. If a car is priced unusually low, it’s guaranteed to attract your attention. There are several potential reasons for the low price:
The seller does not know of the car’s recommended value.
The seller wants to sell the car quickly.
The car is not in as good of condition as it should be.
The car is being sold as a Craigslist scam.
You can choose to move onto the next ad, or investigate further. The next step is to pay attention to the seller’s location. Is the seller based outside of the United States? Or nowhere near your town? If the answer is yes, then pass on this vehicle. Why would someone from hundreds or even thousands of miles away want to ship to your location? Surely there are buyers much closer to them that would allow this cost to be removed. If they offer to pay for shipping, again, ask why they’re foisting this additional cost upon themselves.
Stock photos of the car are another sign that something is up. Photos taken from the manufacturer’s website are useless. As a buyer, you need to see what the product that you may be interested in buying looks like. Even if the seller has posted a few photos that look like they’ve been them by themselves, ask for more. If they make excuses as to why they can’t provide these, then it’s time to look at another car.
Watch out for sob stories. Buying and selling should be treated as a business transaction. If the seller shares information about their private life, then it could be a sign that they are preparing to scam you.
If a Craigslist ad requires the buyer to wire money, be very careful. Services like Western Union are untraceable and are therefore a favorite of dishonest sellers. And of course, it goes without saying that you should never give out financial details (bank account information, Paypal details, Social Security number) to anyone.
Some people who list or buy cars on ad listing sites do get scammed. That’s a fact. There are signs to look out for that indicate a seller isn’t honest, but some of these sellers are pretty smart at coming up with new, very plausible scams.
When you buy a car through a listing service like Craigslist or eBay, you might be uncertain about the quality of the car, especially if you opt for a vehicle that isn’t local to allow you to test drive before buying.
Buying in person, from a reputable dealer, removes all of these uncertainties when purchasing a vehicle. You don’t have to wonder whether the person on the other side of the screen is who they say they are, or whether will fulfill their side of the deal honestly.
The Hemet Car Guy