Protect yourself from common used car scams

There are advantages to buying a used car from a private seller, and the majority of these sellers are honest people. But scammers will always try to take advantage of a situation. Learn more about common scams below.

Common Used Car Scams


Buying a used car from a private seller can potentially save you time and money. There are a lot of ads online from people trying to sell their car. 

While the majority of these ads are legitimate, some of them come from dishonest people trying to separate you from your money. 

Here's some common scams to look out for. Learn the tricks and stay one step ahead of the scammers. 


Title washing

There are certain things that are required by law to be on a car's title. For example, if a car was sold at salvage value, that information legally has to be on the title. 

But scammers know that people are less likely to buy a car that was salvaged or totalled. 

So, the scammer will alter or falsify a title to remove any negative information about the cars history. 

You can make sure a title accurately reflects the history of a car by running an independent VIN check. 


Fake escrow scam

It's not uncommon to use a legitimate escrow service during a private party sale. It protects both the buyer and the seller. 

Scammers know this, and have come up with a way to use it to their advantage. 

Here's how it works:

  • The seller will advertise a car at a price that is way below market value. In other words, a price that's too good to be true. They'll probably give a variety of reasons to explain why the price is so low, such as claiming they've moved or are out of the country. 
  • The seller will ask you to make a deposit into an escrow account, in order to gain your trust. They may also try to sweeten the deal by offering to ship the car to you for free. 

Of course, the escrow company is completely fake. After you authorize the payment, you'll either lose your money and no car will be delivered, or the seller will ship a car that doesn't work. 

You can protect yourself against this scam by picking an established and reputable escrow service that you trust. If the seller refuses to use your escrow service, this is a red flag and you should probably walk away. 


The guarantee scam

The guarantee scam is pretty simple, very easy to spot, and never legitimate. 

If a seller offers a guarantee from a third-party money service like PayPal or Venmo, it's always a lie. 

Third parties like these will never get involved with guaranteeing used car sales. 



Curbstoning is when a professional car dealer poses as a private seller. These are often unlicensed sales for profit. 

The dealer will buy a cars at auction that have been salvaed, flood-damaged, totaled, or suffered some other significant damage. 

Because the professional dealers have the technical prowess to alter odometer settings, mask significant problems, or wash the title, you won't realize you bought a lemon until it's too late. 

You can spot a curbstoner by searching for their phone number and email address online. If you see a long list of car ads from them, they may be a curbstoner. 

Also ask for service records. Curbstoners won't have them. This is a red flag, and you should walk away. 


Know the signs

Buying a used car from a private party has some advantages. You could potentially save time and money when making a person-to-person purchase. 

Because so many people like to buy used cars from an individual instead of a dealer, scammers have come up with ways to separate honest people from their hard earned money. 

Know the signs of these common scams, and stay one step ahead. 


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