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How to Sell a Car on Craigslist Without Getting Scammed

Craigslist car buyers scams

Craigslist is one of the most popular sites on the internet, and it gets more traffic than even huge sites like Netflix. The site pulls in 50 billion page views per month and hosts over 100 million new ads. So if you want to know how to sell a car on Craigslist without getting scammed, you do have to be careful.

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With over 60 million people using Craigslist every month, there are a number of scams that you could potentially fall victim to. This can range from elaborate criminal efforts to rip you off, just down to simple things like a prospective buyer ghosting you and not showing up to buy what you’re selling.


When selling a car on Craigslist, you have to be extra careful. Unlike selling an old bicycle or some other junk around your house, this could be a major cash purchase. You want to protect yourself and your vehicle from people who might try to rip you off.


Craigslist Car Buying Scams


It may surprise you to learn that there are actually a number of different kinds of scams people try on Craigslist when it comes to buying cars. Some of these are far more elaborate, and dishonest, than others.


  • Phishing scams. These are common on Craigslist and are usually easy to detect if you know what to look for. If a prospective buyer contacts you and says they can’t talk but need you to send your contact information somewhere else, don’t fall for it. If they want you to input your address or phone number on a website they sent you a link for, they are trying to scam you.


  • Overpayment scams. This is another common one on Craigslist, usually for big-ticket items. The person will contact you and be extremely interested in your car and want to close the deal right away. They want to pay by check or wire you the money and when they do, they’re going to give you too much.


In an effort to prove how trustworthy they are, the person will send you a check even before you give them the car. And then when it shows up, it’s going to be way more than you asked for. They will ask if you can send them the extra back and even let you keep a bit for your trouble for being so nice.


The scam comes in when you cash the check, send them the money back, and then the check bounces and you’re on the hook for the whole amount.


  • Bad check scams. This scam has been around since well before Craigslist, but it’s very common on the site. Buyers will offer to pay you with stolen checks or counterfeit checks. They show up to make the deal; you give them the car, and you’re left with a fraudulent check and little hope of ever seeing the money or the car again.


  • Ghosting. This one doesn’t cost you as much money, but it will cost you time and can be a big nuisance. You’re talking with someone and arrange to meet them to make the deal, and they just never show up. When you try to contact them again, you get nothing.



How to Avoid Getting Scammed on Craigslist


Even though it seems like everyone is out to get you on Craigslist, that’s not necessarily the case. But you have to be cautious. You have to protect yourself first to avoid big losses later.


Some scams are easier to avoid than others as long as you’re paying attention. Sometimes all you can do is trust your gut and hope for the best. When it comes to ghosting, for instance, all you can do is establish a bit of a rapport with a person first to see if you feel they are truly interested and trustworthy before agreeing to meet them.


If you don’t want to be ghosted by a buyer, exchange a few messages to get a feeling for them first. If they’re not interested in saying much, then you may be at risk. Try to minimize the time you’re going to invest in it by having them come to you, rather than the other way around.


  • Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. It may sound cynical to live your life assuming that everyone is trying to con you, but on Craigslist this is often the best way to approach any transaction.


Approach any communication with the understanding that the person getting in touch with you about your car may be trying to rip you off. That will keep you in the mindset to be on the lookout for anything suspicious.


  • Look for red flags. A lot of scammers are lazy. They have to try to scam a lot of people before they find one that bites. That means they try to cut corners whenever they can.


Many scammers will cut-and-paste messages to send out in bulk and hope someone takes the bait. Look for messages that don’t technically make sense in relation to the ad that they replied to. Also keep an eye out for errors in grammar and syntax.


A number of Craigslist scams originated from overseas. Sometimes their messages will have run through a translation app, and that leaves them confusing and a bit garbled. 



  • Ask for a phone number. If you have a legitimate buyer, then they should have no problem with communicating openly with you. If you’re just selling some old Coke bottles, feel free to use Craigslist messaging. But for a car, you want to hear a real human voice on the phone first.


If a buyer isn’t willing to give you a phone number, or they only want to call you and the number shows up as private or blocked, that’s a big red flag as well. If you do manage to get a phone number, check the area code to see where they’re coming from.


  • Ask some questions. This speaks to the previous part about cut-and-paste messages. If you ask a few questions and you can’t get a straight answer, you may be dealing with someone who is simply cutting and pasting their part of a conversation.


  • Know how to get paid. On Craigslist, for big-ticket items like a car, cash is king. Insist on getting paid with cash over anything else. If a buyer wants to pay you by wire transfer or a personal check, it’s just not worth the risk.


There may be legitimate reasons why a buyer can’t pay you with cash on the spot. If that’s the case, you need to be extremely cautious. Get a feel for the person first to see if you think you can trust them at all.


If you want to take the risk, you still should avoid the checks and wire transfers at all costs. Consider another payment method, like a bank draft that comes with some guarantee that the money is legitimate.



  • Be professional. Scammers will often look for sellers that they feel are naïve or uninformed about what they have. Make sure your ad is well written, clear and concise, with plenty of technical details that any prospective buyer would want to know. Include clear photos as well.


The more professional your ad seems, the more likely you are to attract serious buyers. If you just post something like “car for sale, runs good” then more scammers are likely to latch onto it while serious buyers would pass it over because it doesn’t tell them much about what you have.


  • Meet in person. This is a good rule of thumb for meeting anyone from on the internet. Meet them in person, in public, in broad daylight. You should always bring a friend with you when you do this as well. Agree to meet at some place like a Starbucks, are even better at a bank where the financial transaction can take place.


The bank is a good place to meet if your car is being sold for a large amount of money. In this case, if paying in cash isn’t practical, you can be at the bank with the buyer while they get a certified check in front of you, where you can see it so you know it’s legitimate. 



  • Trust your gut. At the end of the day there is no guaranteed way to spot a scammer. You’re going to have to use your own intuition and go with what feels right. Just know that the potential to be scammed is out there and look for the signs that something strange is going on. 


The Bottom Line


Many people have successfully sold their cars on Craigslist with no problems at all. There’s no need to be paranoid that something bad is going to happen, just be aware that something bad could happen. 


If the situation gets too stressful for you, remember that you don’t have to go through with anything that doesn’t make you comfortable. 


If you’re finding Craigslist not to your liking, always remember that Cash Cars Buyer can pay you cash in hand in under 24 hours for your old car. You don’t have to worry about waiting for someone just show up, or if they’re going to scam you or not. We’ve got 10 years of experience and hundreds of satisfied customers to attest to our professionalism and reliability.

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