Car Seller Scam Explained

Car Seller Advertises a Car Online – You Buy – Your Money Disappears and You Get No Car

[ If you are selling a used car and suspect a scam by a potential buyer, see our article, Car Buyer Scam ]

How the car selling scam works

car seller scamIt’s a common scam. Here’s how it works.

You find a car being advertised online on Craigslist, Autotrader, or other online classified ad web site. You like the car. You want it. The picture of the car is beautiful, the description is wonderful, and the price is unbelievably low.

You contact the “seller” who emails you details about the car and why it’s being sold so cheap.

By the way, the “seller” often has a woman’s name, which is intended to make him seem more trustworthy.

The seller (scammer) goes to great length to tell the story of his/her personal situation, a spouse’s death, a military deployment,  or other reason why he/she is selling. they explain how they are in a remote location (often military) with no phone, why the car is being sold at such a low price, how it will be “shipped” to you at no cost, and how your money will be “protected” by eBay, PayPal, or Amazon while you inspect the car, and that you can return it at no cost if you don’t like it.

The story typically describes how he/she is in financial difficulty due to losing a job, doing through a divorce, a death, or getting transferred by the military. He or she needs to sell the car fast. The seller often is located overseas, or so he/she says, and can only be contacted via email — no mailing address, no phone. The car is never someplace where you can go look at it or test drive it.

Here’s where it gets interesting

The seller (scammer) goes on to say that the car will be shipped to you from wherever it is located and he/she will pay the full cost of shipping through a shipping agent. He or she also explains that they use an “eBay payment service” or “eBay protection plan” or ProPay service ( or “Carfax payment service” and “Carfax buyback program” or “Yahoo payment service” or “PayPal” buyer protection”) so that your money will be protected until you are satisfied with the car. You will also have 5 days or 10 days to decide if you like the car and can ship it back if you decide you don’t want it, at the sellers expense.

Wow, what a deal !!!!

Hey, this is sounding too good to be true. (Hint: It is!)

So what wrong with this deal?

Answer: Everything is wrong with this deal, because it is a common scam.

The seller’s whole story is a complete lie.

The seller has no such car. Actually the pictures and the VIN number for the car were picked off the Internet so that if you were to get a Carfax report on the car, you would find the car is real and has a clean history. It’s just not the seller’s car. It belongs to someone else, somewhere else. A Carfax report doesn’t tell you who owns the car. The scammer knows that.

Furthermore, eBay doesn’t have an escrow payment service or “protection” service for cars not sold through eBay. Nor does Propay, Yahoo, PayPal or any other such service. When you send your money to the “protected” payment service, it goes directly to the scammer’s account. Say goodbye to your money because it’s the last you’ll see of it. And, of course, you’ll never see the car, which never belonged to the “seller” anyway.

What can you do?

Can you have the scamming seller arrested and get your money back? No chance. The scammer is likely in another country and knows how to hide from law enforcement. He keeps moving and changing things so that he doesn’t leave a trail.

Reporting the scam to the police, FBI, FTC or other U.S. agency will not get your money back.

If you discover the scam before you lose your money, consider yourself lucky.

Buy a car the old fashioned way to be safe

Never buy a car you can’t go see, test drive, have inspected by a mechanic, see the owner’s title, and talk face-to-face with the seller. Never send money to a stranger, even with a promise of “protection.”  If you need a loan, get it from a legitimate bank or auto finance company.

Actual Scammer Emails

Here are some actual emails, that illustrates how the scam works, sent to some of our visitors by real car scammers:

“If you are interested in my 2003 Mini Cooper S, it is in perfect condition, with no need for additional repairs, no scratches, dings, special marks whatsoever. It has 69,945 miles and the VIN # is : WMWRE33463TD65004. It has a clear title ready to be signed and notorized (sic) on your name.

I have the pictures hosted on the net and you can see them at : [editor: where did they steal the nice picture?]

The car is located in Honolulu, HI. [editor: sure it is]

The price is $2,970 including shipping costs anywhere in the continental US. There are no other costs regarding this transaction. I am selling the car because I am in the army, and my unit will be deployed to Afghanistan in December. [editor: sure, you are in the Army, that’s what many of the scammers say]

The transaction will be closed only through a 3rd party and this way we will both be protected. [editor: only the scammer seller is protected] My time is limited due to my job in the army so I decided to use a service from ProPay. [editor: ProPay is NOT an escrow service] To begin the transaction I’ll need your full name and shipping address, I will forward the details of our transaction to ProPay and then you will receive an invoice from them. The car will be shipped insured to your location with DAS and you will have 5 days for inspection. [editor: the car never shows up, and the seller disappears from the face of the earth, along with your money]

Thank you,
(signed) Laura Plummer [editor: a nice female name to make you feel better]

Here is another:

“I am emailing you regarding the VERY Nice 2004 HONDA ACCORD EX,
that I have for sale on Craigslist, I sell it at this price ($4000) because i just finished the divorce with my husband and i don`t have drivers license. [editor: sure, nice story]

The vehicle looks and works perfect. As you see it has a lot of options. No hidden problems and never involved in any kind of accidents, ONLY 55,100 miles. The VIN# is: VIN: 1HGCM56664A149427 [editor: VIN picked up on the Internet somewhere. It is a real car, but doesn’t belong to scammer]

Since the car was also listed on [editor: maybe so, but it’s not your car], I prefer closing the transaction trough their Vehicle Purchase Protection system [editor: no such system for Craigslist cars] because we are both protected [editor: sure we are!]. If you don’t know how does the eBay Vehicle Purchase Protection Program work please let me know so I can help you. I used it several times (as a seller but as well as a buyer) and everything was perfect.

The vehicle was inspected by eBay.[editor: eBay does not inspect cars] as well, shipping & handling fees are included in the final price ($4.000.00).

If you are interested please let me know your shipping details so i can open a transaction case.

(signed) Theresa Robinson [editor: again, a nice safe female name]

And here is another:

” I am still selling through eBay(Vehicle Purchase Protection Program) for the safety of both of us so if you are interested in buying the car you have to know that once you receive it you have 3 days to test driving and inspection and if you find that it is not like I said,you can send it back on my expense, but I’m sure it won’t be the case…After starting the transaction with eBay, your money, which are deposited in their safe account will be blocked until the end of the deal, so I won’t be able to withdraw it until we’ve finished the deal. [editor: why don’t the scammers learn to write good English?]

You make the payment to eBay. [editor: you mean, your account that looks like eBay?]

After they check the payment they announce me to start the shipping.

After you receive the car and see that it is like I stated, you have to announce them that you’ve decided to keep it.

Only then, eBay will send me the money. I will not receive any money before you receive the car.If the car isn’t like I said, it’s seems fair to me to receive it back on my expense.

In order to begin the deal, I’ll need your full name and shipping address for starting the transaction .

Best wishes,


Watch for common scams when buying used cars online. It is much safer if you buy locally. There are many local sources of good cheap used cars that you might not be aware of. See our article, How to Find Good Cheap Cars, for more information.