How To Avoid Scams When Selling Your Car


When trying to get rid of a car, you’re typically faced with a few options. You can keep the car, maybe to give it to a family member; you can trade the car in to a dealership when you buy your next one, enjoying a quick transaction and maybe some tax perks; or you can choose to sell it yourself, likely making the most possible money.

Selling your car privately is a great way to maximize the amount of money you can earn—CarGurus estimates you can make $1,200 more on average than what you’d receive if you traded your car in—but it does come with some risks. Luckily, you can easily minimize those risks by following these steps to identify common scams, from forged checks to bogus money transfers. Best of all, selling your car on CarGurus can protect you from fraud (and make the paperwork easier, too).

Get to Know Your Potential Buyers

We’ll assume that you have buyers practically beating down your door trying to buy your car (that’s the idea, right?). Before you agree to meet with any of these potential purchasers, try to get some background information from them. Are they local? Can they meet in person? How do they plan to pay for the car?

Recognizing and protecting yourself from scams starts with these initial messages. If you’re selling your car on CarGurus, the website’s messaging system will employ technology designed to identify questionable messages. CarGurus also allows for text-messaging communication through a proxy phone system, meaning you don’t have to unnecessarily share your personal phone number.

Keep It Professional

Remember, you’re selling a car, not donating it to a charity. Often, unsavory buyers will try to play off your emotions by sharing stories of the sad circumstances that led them to you and your car. Don’t be swayed by these stories. Keep the transaction professional, and don’t rush the process. Make sure all documentation is transferred only after you’ve received payment for the vehicle, and ideally after that money has been successfully deposited into your bank account.

There are a few hoops to jump through when transferring money and paperwork during a private car sale. While the process is easy enough to manage, it’s critical that you take things one step at a time and don’t hand over the keys until each step has been completed. CarGurus offers a secure paperwork and payment system to help make this process seamless and easy.

Meet During the Day in a Public Place

Imagine you’re shopping for a car—after all, if you’re trying to sell a car, you're probably shopping for one too, right? Would you wait until the sun had set to go look at it? Certainly not. Schedules can be tough to work around, particularly in winter months when the daylight hours shrink, but you should still insist on meeting the shopper during the day. It will help them see the vehicle clearly, and—just as important—it will help you see them clearly.

Additionally, avoid private, secluded meeting areas. The more people in your meeting area, the safer you’ll be. Shopping mall and grocery store parking lots are great options. Many police stations also have designated places for folks to conduct sales. A police station is ideal, as very few scammers will be willing to risk ripping someone off in front of the cops.

Don’t Take Personal Checks

With $75,000 in purchase protection, dedicated support, and electronic payment and paperwork transfer, the CarGurus’ private seller offering is ideal for most shoppers. That said, if you’re transacting in person, cash is your best option.

But many folks don’t feel comfortable walking around with thousands of dollars in cash, so your buyer may suggest paying with a check. Under no circumstances should you accept a personal check (or, for that matter, a wire transfer or gift card). They are just too easy to forge.

If the buyer needs to pay via check, you should insist on a cashier’s check. Look up the bank listed on the cashier’s check online and call to confirm that the payment is legitimate. Don’t use the number printed on the check, as that could be a part of the scam. Better yet, go to the bank with the shopper and have the teller cut a cashier’s check then and there.

The Bottom Line

Selling your car privately is the best way to maximize the amount of money heading into your bank account. But when dealing with potential buyers, take your time, be cautious, and don’t fall for sob stories. Keep things professional. Selling your car is a business transaction, so you should try to remain unemotional through the process. If the bank isn’t open, wait until it is. If a buyer wants to pay you with a personal check or some other peculiar currency, politely decline and move on to the next shopper.

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