THE DANGERS OF USING CRAIGSLIST AND OTHER ONLINE CLASSIFIEDS
When trying to sell your car, your first thought is to try to have as many people as possible viewing your vehicle as possible; and no other tool can do this as well as the Internet. There are many sites that can do this for you; the most popular of which are Ebay Motors, Cars.com and Craigslist.org, among many others.
The problem you quickly notice with getting thousands of people viewing your car, is that not all of those people mean well. I’m not going to go into detail and explain the technical procedures and problems that can occur when posting your vehicle on one of these sites, that’s a long topic for a different article, I am, instead, going to explain to sellers the most common scams and threats that can, and usually do, occur; and to help protect sellers from scammers.
The first and most common scam is commonly known as the Nigerian Mail Scam. There are a few different ways that this can start out, and from many possible countries, but it usually starts out with an email or phone call from someone out-of-state or out of the country, who is interested in purchasing your vehicle for full price, sight unseen, and many times will even include a shipping cost.
You will then receive a bank or certified check in the mail and will be asked to deposit it and ship the car to the buyer who has already made arrangements for shipping. The check will clear as normal, and funds will show up on your bank balance statement. Many times, depending on your bank, you can even withdraw the funds immediately.
What many people don’t know, is that most banks will clear a check but not necessarily guarantee the funds until days, possibly weeks, after the initial deposit.
A couple of years ago, I sold a car on Craigslist. I received and deposited the check as expected but thankfully something just didn’t seem right with the buyer. I’ve been in the car business practically my whole life and I’ve never had such ease when selling a car, with a seller who sent me the full amount without seeing the car or a seller who wasn’t protecting themselves at all.
I started to wonder: How did they know I wasn’t planning on keeping their money and not send the car? How did they know I even had the car?
Thankfully I didn’t ship the car. I realized something just didn’t seem right. By then the check had cleared, I withdrew the funds, purchased a certified check in my name, and placed it in a safe place until a detective arrived at my door and explained how the scam worked and the difference between funds cleared and funds made available. I handed the check to the detective.
I asked him what would have happened if I had sent the car to the scammer and had spent the money. He explained that these scammers work from countries that are practically lawless, or countries that have no extradition treaties with the US, therefore even if the police knew exactly where the person was, they couldn’t prosecute, and I would still be held liable for the money that I withdrew from my back account unfunded. And if I couldn’t produce the payments, the bank could place a lien on my home, car or any other assets I might have.
No matter how promising, or enticing, or how simple it seems. Scam artists are clever and make their living scamming people out of their hard-earned money. They have perfected this scam over years and years, so my recommendation to sellers is to not ship their cars anywhere, ever.
Do the transactions in person and avoid possible legal liabilities.
Another similar scam is the fake check and/or counterfeit money scam. It basically works the same way the person gives you a certified check for the amount of the vehicle, then they drive away, leaving you with no money and no car.
A cash payment is the safest way to insure the buyer is serious, but this not fool proof either. Stories of people in the Northern New Jersey area washing small bills such as $5 and $10 and making then $100 bills, or simply printing bills abound.
Even as early as a week ago, a man was arrested in Hoboken for paying with wet $100 dollar bills for his drinks (the pens don’t work on wet bills). When the ink dried and the bartender tried the markers, the customer had spent over $500 in that bar alone.
Another person was making large purchases from Craigslist. When people would use the counterfeit markers on the bills, they would show up as real $100 bills, although they were actually $5 bills that had been laundered.
Therefore, the best way to insure that the bills you are receiving are proper bills, is to have the buyer come with you to your local bank and deposit the cash in your account. The teller at your bank can assess correctly whether the bills are real or not.
You should always get as much solid information as possible from the buyer. Don’t just accept the information they give you either, ask to take down their license information, take a copy of their license, google their name, write down license plate numbers, take a picture of them, anything you can possibly think of. See if they’re understanding and can relate to your weariness about scam artists. Do they get unusually defensive or make excuses as to why they can’t or won’t supply the info you request.
The more information you get the easier it may be to track the person if something doesn’t go as planned.
One very important way of safeguarding your information is to never sign a title over without receiving payment first, and verifying that the payment is not fraudulent.
The title to the car is literarily your contract of ownership to the car, if someone else has the title under their name, then they own the car, and it becomes your word against theirs. Therefore, never hand over the title until proper payments have cleared.
If you have suspicions, don’t go through with the transaction and see an authority with questions and concerns.
Always meet in public places with a friend or family member watching the transaction from a safe distance.
A few years ago a friend found a Porsche on Craigslist for $25,000. He realized that the turbo car was easily worth 3 times the asking price. He immediately called the person listed in the ad.
A woman explained she recently had gone through a divorce and that the car had too much sentimental value and she did not really know what it was worth but she wanted it gone ASAP. She said cash only and he could pick up the car and drive it away.
He rushed there with $10,000 cash, all his bank had available on such short notice. When he arrived at the address on a dead end street, he called the seller and she told him to come around to the back of the house, she would open the garage. When he got out of his car four men attacked him, beat him and demanded the money and the keys to his new SUV. He managed to fend them off long enough to get in his car and drive away with the money and his SUV.
Stories like this are very common and often go as far as the Craigslist Killer and other stories that pop up on the news from time to time.
On online classifieds, there’s no screening process, no background check, no way at all to insure the person is who they say they are, public meetings are, therefore, one way to safeguard against illicit activities.
I don’t recommend anyone sell or buy anything on Craigslist without taking major precautions to protect themselves and their assets beforehand. Never give anyone your address, there are countless dangers that can come from giving a stranger your home address.
Anyone can easily call a local ad from Craigslist ask the person when they will be around to show the vehicle and get their address. They now have all the information they need to rob you while you are at work, and possibly even hurt your family in the process.
You should, therefore, meet in a very public place, like a shopping mall, a supermarket at peak-hours or even in front of your local police station. Always have a second person waiting from a distance with a cell phone in hand. If the buyer tries anything, your friend or family member can call for help immediately.
Watch the car inspection process carefully. When someone is viewing your car watch carefully what they touch and what they test especially when under the hood. I’ve heard stories of people pulling hoses out of place to make it seem like the car is leaking fluids, or disconnecting batteries to make it seem like the car has trouble staying on. Keep a tight eye on them, to make sure that they are testing things properly.
Keep the test drive brief, there is no reason to take a test drive further then it needs to be. The longer that person drives the car, the higher the odds of an accident occurring, or of the person taking you to a place you might not be aware of, or might not be safe in.
BILL OF SALE
When completing a sale make sure that a bill of sale stating the VIN# is filled out, dated and signed by both parties. Every car in NJ is considered sold AS-IS unless otherwise stated, even then if the buyer says that you expressed that the car performs a certain way and if it does not, the person may be able to hold you liable. Always put it in writing that the car is sold as is with no guarantee expressed or implied.
People are always coming up with new and inventive ways to scam or harm innocent people
These are just a few things to keep in mind, always remember if something does not feel right do not go through with it. Be safe.