Someone Wants To Buy My Car Without Seeing It

November 9, 2023


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    Why Would Someone Buy Your Car Without Seeing It First?

    When selling a used car, you want it to be easy — but not too easy. If a prospective buyer wants to pick up your car sight unseen or without taking a test drive first, you're likely in the crosshairs of a scam.

    Posing as potential buyers, scammers rush sales to trick sellers into making careless decisions. They could want your identity, your car, your money, or all of the above. And, if you never see the buyer, you have a far lower chance of noticing any red flags.

    Fraudulent car buyers are everywhere, polluting private sales on eBay, Craigslist, and Autotrader. For one Georgia man, it was Facebook Marketplace that saw him scammed out of his 2018 Camaro.

    When a bad check for $49,000 bounced a few days after the sale, he was left making monthly payments for a car he'd likely never see again [*]. 

    10 Red Flags That Point to a Scam Buyer

    Car selling and car buying scams can hit anyone if they're not careful. For one Arizona family, the scam took place before the sale. 

    When they attempted to sell their vehicle, the family found out that fraudsters had stolen the vehicle identification number (VIN), changed the name on the title, and taken out a loan against the truck [*].

    When it's time to sell your vehicle, watch out for the following scam warning signs. 

    1. Out-of-town buyers

    Collectible car enthusiasts may legitimately buy cars from a distance; but scammers use the excuse of being out of town as a way to evade phone calls or in-person meetings.

    If they only communicate via email or text message, they're hiding something. Always try to meet in a safe public place, or use a reputable escrow service to secure the transaction from afar.

    2. Fake check schemes

    Even car dealers are susceptible to fake check fraud. In this scam, thieves buy cars with fake personal checks, cashier's checks, certified checks, or money orders.

    In check deposit scams, the check appears to go through, only to bounce later on. Whenever possible, deal in cash or wait for the check to clear before releasing the vehicle.

    3. Overpayments

    In this common scam,a buyer "accidentally" sends a check for more than the asking price. They then have you return the extra money before the check bounces.

    Other versions include scammers overpaying to accommodate a special request or supposed hassle, such as trading or releasing the car before the check clears. Again, make sure that you have your money before doing anything.

    4. Bogus escrow services

    Real escrow services provide transaction security for both parties, but scammers can set up fake escrow accounts to swindle sellers.

    The fake escrow service notifies the seller that they secured the money and are awaiting the vehicle to change hands, but there's no money there. Always research an escrow service before trusting them with a transaction. 

    5. Requests for personal information

    A real buyer shouldn't need much more information from you beyond your name and phone number.

    Scammers may give themselves away by asking for more data, such as your Social Security number (SSN), credit card number, and driver's license. Even when providing car service records, redact your details before handing them over.  

    6. Elaborate payment plans

    You should always be skeptical of any buyer asking to make payments in installments. Scammers try to set up scheduled payments and offer incentives because they have no intention of paying.

    Get your money upfront, even if that means going to the buyer's bank to cash a check. 

    7. Suggestions of a car swap or trade

    While trade-ins happen all the time at dealerships, they're unreliable in private sales. Scammers may offer to swap a higher-value vehicle for your car, but that vehicle could be stolen or compromised in some way.

    If you must make a trade, first request a vehicle information package and history report. Also make sure that the bill of sale satisfies your conditions. 

    8. Pre-purchase inspection scams

    In this scam, fraudsters insist on a pre-purchase inspection done at a place of their choosing. The buyer then returns a biased or fake inspection report to drive down the price.

    Avoid this by taking control of the inspection process and having it done at a reputable establishment.

    9. Demands for a specific vehicle history report

    Some scammers only feign interest in your car so that they can steal your money or information.

    They may request that you pay for a vehicle history report from a specific site — costing you money (or even your personal information) for a worthless report [*]. Stick to only well-known vehicle history reports from services like Carfax or Autocheck. 

    10. Tampering with the car

    You should expect potential buyers to look at your car, but be careful that they don't do any damage to it in the process.

    Some fraudsters tamper with vehicles and then complain about the problem to lower the price [*]. If possible, have someone accompany you to watch over things during the meet-up.

    How To Avoid Being Scammed

    Faced with car title scams, extended warranty scams, registration fraud, and vehicle-related identity theft, selling a car can seem dangerous — but it doesn't have to be. Take your time with the process, and look out for all of the main fraud and identity theft warning signs.

    You should also follow these general precautions to protect yourself as a private seller: 

    • Trust your gut. If something feels off about the sale, take extra precautions, and back out if necessary. Meet in a high-traffic location that you know, and bring a friend. 
    • Verify the buyer's identity and insurance. You need to see the buyer's driver's license to verify their name and address for the notice of transfer or sale [*]. While it's not mandatory to see their insurance, it helps confirm the buyer’s identity and legitimate interest. 
    • Insist on a bill of sale or car sale agreement. A legally binding document, the bill of sale lays out the guidelines of the sale and protects you from any false claims afterward. Many states need a bill of sale to transfer vehicle ownership. Some states provide a bill of sale template [*], while others require you to draft your own.
    • Wait for payment before a title transfer. Always wait until the money is in your hand or in your bank account before signing over the vehicle. When dealing with a check, ask the bank how long the check gets held before clearing. Checks over $5,525 may be held for up to five days or longer [*].
    • Retain car insurance while the vehicle remains under your name. Until the title changes hands and you submit a notice of transfer or release of liability [*], your vehicle remains your responsibility. Not only is insurance mandatory for all vehicles in some states, but it protects you from liability involving the car [*]. You'll also avoid insurance penalties from a lapse in coverage until you get a new car.
    • Finalize paperwork. The paperwork needed for a private sale varies by state and Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). In New York, you need a certificate of title, transferred and signed ownership, lien release [*], bill of sale, odometer disclosure statement, and damage disclosure statement [*]. Other state requirements include maintenance records, vehicle history reports, release of liability, warranty documents, emissions certifications, and sales tax documents.
    • Keep your own records. Document everything, including your conversations. Take pictures of the car to record its condition at the time of the sale. Make copies of all the paperwork and the buyer's driver's license. This will help you protect yourself and support an investigation in case of any wrongdoing.

    Reporting a Car Selling Scam

    If you think you've been scammed, report it to your local law enforcement office and the Federal Trade Commision (FTC) at

    Depending on the nature of the crime, you may also want to contact your bank, and flag or freeze your accounts immediately. 

    For the most thorough defense against fraud, consider signing up for Identity Guard’s identity theft protection

    Get 24/7 identity and credit monitoring along with near real-time alerts. If scammers try to access your accounts or use your information in any way, you'll be notified and supported immediately.

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