Scam Alert! How do you tell if an auto listing you see online is a scam?

It seems the scammers are as busy as ever.

I have been reporting scams on our local Craigslist site for as long as there has been a local Craigslist site.  Many friends and acquaintances have inquired about purchasing a vehicle they found on Craigslist, AutoTrader, or eBay that turns out to be a scam.  Here is what you need to know in order to avoid such scams.

Many of these scammers offer to do the transaction through eBay so that you can utilize eBay’s Vehicle Purchase Protection (VPP).  They actually email you fake eBay listings pages and other information that looks like it comes from eBay but it doesn’t.  In fact eBay’s VPP doesn’t even operate like the scammers claim.  Complaining to eBay won’t help as they have nothing to do with it. EBay can’t stop scams on Craigslist, AutoTrader or other sites, they have a hard enough time patrolling their own site.

How do you tell if a listing you see online is a scam?

  1. No legitimate seller sells a vehicle for less than a dealer would pay for that vehicle. I mean why would they go to all the trouble to list a vehicle online when they could just drive down to their local used car dealership and sell them the car for a wholesale/trade in value?  Do you want to know what dealers pay for the car you are looking at?  Go to and do an appraisal on the car you are looking at.  Dealers usually pay somewhere close to average trade in value or a little less.  But not a lot less.  Bottom line: If you see a car advertised for thousands below KBB or NADA trade in values then you can be certain that it is either an outright scam or that there are serious problems with the vehicle.

No legitimate seller offers free shipping.

Why would they?  Shipping costs are usually $300-$1,000 within the US and double or triple that if coming from overseas.  Again, why would they offer free shipping when they could just take the car down to their local dealer and get the cash. Beware the military personnel scam.  They claim that they took their car overseas and now they found out that they can’t register it in the country where they are stationed.  They offer to ship it for free back to the US via US military transport.  Fact: The US military does ship service members vehicles for free, but they only ship from base to base and not to private residences of non-military individuals.  Also, no service member would be allowed to ship their car to a country where that car couldn’t be registered. Sometimes legitimate sellers will offer to help you arrange shipping and even add it to the total purchase price of the car (that is not wise for a number of reasons), but shipping always costs something.  Bottom line:  All offers to ship a car for free are 100% fraudulent.

No legitimate seller offers an inspection period.

Why would they send a car to you and pay the shipping only to have you decide you didn’t want it?  Nobody does business like that.  Some legitimate sellers do offer a customer satisfaction guarantee, but usually this is only if the vehicle was not as described in the listing and the buyer always has to pay the shipping both ways.  Furthermore, with a legitimate seller, payment for the car is always made before the car is shipped and the money is refunded only after the car is returned to the seller.  Bottom line: Nobody is going to sell you a car and wait for their money until after you have a couple days to inspect it.

eBay is not an escrow company.

EBay will not hold your money.  They never have and never will.  Doesn’t work that way.  There are escrow companies out there, but almost none of them make their services available for big ticket items like vehicles and most legitimate sellers would never use an escrow company for reasons cited above.

eBay does not have agents or warehouses.

You can’t even get a live eBay rep to answer a phone. eBay is strictly an advertising venue.  They do not actually conduct any transactions or store any product.  All transactions are directly between the buyer and seller.  There are no eBay agents or eBay warehouses.

eBay, Craigslist, AutoTrader, and do not condone the use of Western Union or Money Gram.

On all of the above mentioned advertising sites there are big bold warnings about not using these payment services.  The reason scammers use these money transfer services is that the money can be picked up anywhere in the world and it is very difficult to trace.  A legitimate seller accepts only cash, bank checks, or bank to bank wire transfers for payment.  They may ask you to leave a small deposit via PayPal but they will generally not allow you to make full payment via PayPal because PayPal payments funded with a credit card can be reversed.

All of these scams play off people’s desire for a bargain.   Never let your greed for a bargain override good old fashioned common sense.  “If it is too good to be true it always is” 

Now if you insist on supporting these scammers with your hard earned money don’t come crying to me or anybody else when you don’t get your “deal of the decade”.   You have been warned!