5 Rules To Remember When Buying or Selling On Craigslist

The used car market is wrought with fraud and crooked scam artists, especially at places like Craigslist. You need to stay on your toes when dealing with marketplaces like this whether you’re buying or selling, and having intimate knowledge of the scams is half the battle. To help spot the fraud we’ve outlined some common scams you may run into on less secure marketplace websites and how to avoid them.

Common scams for selling:

  • Check or money order
    • Some buyers will only offer to pay with a check or money order. This complicates the selling process, and it’s a red flag. If they insist on paying with a check, have it be a cashier’s check and have the buyer come with you when you go to cash it. If you deposit a fraudulent check the bank won’t know for days. So when you go in, the teller will be able to verify the check’s validity.
  • Offer to buy without seeing
    • How can the buyer expect to be satisfied with the car without having seen it? They may offer to send money (after obtaining your address) because they “really want the car” but can’t get it in person for some reason. Maybe they’re out of the country. In any case, it’s best to steer clear of this kind of circumstance and only deal with local people who are willing to meet you.
  • Only agree to meet at night
    • It’s possible for a buyer to offer a meetup around midnight at a dimly lit parking lot 30 miles outside of town. Don’t do this. Suggest a public place, like a mall parking lot, in the middle of the day. In other words, suggest a place with witnesses. Don’t let it be too far from where you live either. You want to stay close to known areas, so you have better control and assessment of the situation.
  • Payment plans
    • Sometimes the buyer doesn’t have the money right away, so they may suggest a payment plan. Do not agree to this. Instead suggest they get a loan so you can at least get all your money up front. If they offer a payment plan there’s nothing stopping them from just running away from the car. Basically, if you’re holding the title in your right hand don’t let go of it until your left hand is filled with cash.

Common scams for buying:

  • Cars are too cheap
    • So you’re looking for a car to buy, and come across one that’s not too old, has low mileage and is in seemingly fantastic condition, and the price is inexplicably half of its KBB value. What’s the deal? You don’t know, and that’s the point. Sellers with their cars up for low prices want to get rid of them quickly for some horrific reason, and it’s best to avoid whatever reason that might be.
  • The seller is not currently in the country
    • If the seller can’t meet you in person, for whatever reason, don’t pursue it. If they want you to deal with someone else that’s a shady situation that you probably don’t want to be a part of. It’s always best to deal with sellers directly, as third parties might not know what’s going on with the transaction or the vehicle, or are there to try to scam you out of more money.
  • Rental cars
    • Rental care are not good to deal with at all, for the simple fact that insurance companies have their own insurance and therefore don’t need to necessarily report accidents. In other words if you’re about to purchase a car that was once a rental, you may be buying a car with bad frame damage and not know it.


Either buyers or sellers can get scammed, and it often does happen when dealing with buyers and sellers on places like Craigslist, which offer virtually no safety measures whatsoever. To avoid these scams here are four simple cardinal rules to keep in mind:

  1. Accept cash only
  2. Bring the buyer/seller with you to the bank for the deposit
  3. Bring a friend with you
  4. Agree to meet at a public place in broad daylight
  5. Keep everything local


There are other more transparent or easy to spot scams happening on Craigslist, for instance you might find the same car posted in multiple cities. Those ads might also have pictures depicting cars that are absolutely not the one being advertised. Be aware and vigilant of these scams, as they are relatively easy to spot and easier to avoid.


Some police stations offer safe zones for in-person interactions, and this helps a great deal to reduce the anxiety that comes with meeting someone for a monetary transaction. It’s called SafeTrade, and the police stations are very accommodating. Some will even offer the inside of the station as a location to make the transaction. The parking lots are under constant surveillance so they are a good option if the inside of the station is not available.


When selling (or buying) a car keep this list in mind. It’s easy to fall for great deals because they seem to be everywhere, but don’t even bother if they meet any of the criteria on this list. These scams are all over the place, and once you get the hang of it they can be quite easy to spot and thanks to vehicle history checks there are more options available to help mitigate the risk of getting scammed.

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