How to Protect Yourself Against Fraud in Car Sales

202202 car fraud scaled jpg illustration by Paul Dolan

In becoming your trusted adviser when it comes to the life cycle of your vehicle, we want to make sure you’re equipped with the knowledge needed to use our site safely for everything from negotiating to financing to leasing to resale, whether with a dealer or not. Combating internet fraud is an ongoing process for all companies, and at, we take seriously our role in the automotive marketplace as a trusted content provider.

Related: More Car Shopping Advice

While the vast majority of vehicle listings and inquiries to these listings on are legitimate, we strive to make sure our customers are aware that there are individuals who use for illegitimate purposes. These individuals will post vehicle listings on solely for the purpose of scamming potential car buyers. In the same manner, they may contact our legitimate sellers and express an interest in purchasing vehicles for the purpose of scamming the seller.

We want to make sure our customers always exercise caution and common sense. Don’t be a victim; help protect yourself from fraud before the sale by learning more about how operates and by taking the fraud awareness precautions outlined in our advice below. If an activity seems suspicious or a transaction seems unbelievably good, it probably is.

Advice for Buyers

Inspect the Car, Preferably in Person

  • Be wary of sellers who refuse to meet in person, face to face.
  • Use caution if the seller only wants to communicate via email or text message.
  • Be extremely wary if the seller refuses to or claims they cannot talk on the phone.
  • If possible, have a car mechanic join you and inspect the vehicle before you pay to complete a sale.
  • Exercise caution if the seller states the vehicle must be shipped or is currently not in their physical possession.

Avoid Listings That Are Too Good to Be True

  • Ads for popular sports cars and SUVs priced at half of what they’re worth are almost always lures used by scam artists. Use a price check tool to get an approximate idea of an automobile’s worth before responding to a suspicious listing.
  • If you’re suspicious of any listings on, please do not hesitate to contact our Fraud Prevention Department. We can be reached at or 888-780-1286.
  • Exercise extreme caution before wiring deposits or payments using Western Union, MoneyGram, PayPal, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, escrow services or gift cards.
  • The safest way to purchase a car is in person and in a public place. However, if you must wire funds, please make sure you verify the receiving account by contacting the bank directly prior to doing so.
  • We never recommend doing business with an overseas car dealer or seller. Sending money in any form overseas will likely result in losing all of it. Western Union and MoneyGram are popular for internet scams because the funds are generally untraceable and available instantly worldwide.
  • Please be aware that fraudsters may set up fake escrow services in an attempt to deceive consumers. Before you commit to using any escrow service, we recommend researching the service thoroughly online and through the state licensing authority that has licensed the company.

Note that a current online fraud trend involves a fraudulent seller requesting payment via gift cards from popular stores or websites. If you encounter a seller who proposes payment through this method, please cut off all communication with the seller and reach out to

Learn About a Vehicle’s History

  • Consider purchasing a vehicle history report such as those offered by Carfax. While vehicle history reports do not necessarily include every piece of information about a used car, they can be a helpful tool to identify major issues or defects, general location and more.
  • It can be indicative of auto fraud if the seller is unable or unwilling to provide the vehicle identification number or a copy of the title.

Advice for Sellers

Dealing Locally Is Best

  • The safest and recommended way to deal is in person, face to face.
  • Use caution if the buyer only wants to communicate via email or text message.
  • Avoid buyers who are currently out of the country or claim to reside overseas.
  • Be extremely wary if the buyer refuses to or claims he or she cannot talk on the phone.

Avoid Complicated Payment Schemes

  • As the one selling, you are in control. Always state your preferred method of payment and be suspicious of a payment process that involves too many steps.
  • Exercise caution with payment processes that involve prepaid debit or gift cards.

Note that an online fraud trend involves the fraudster sending you a cashier’s check for more than the purchase amount of your car and asking you to send the difference back to them via wire, gift card or some other means. These cashier’s checks are almost always counterfeit and your bank will hold you liable for all losses incurred.

Verify Payment

  • Do not transfer the title of your car to the buyer until their check has cleared or you have otherwise received full payment for your vehicle.
  • Never accept a check for more than your asking price.
  • You should always verify the authenticity of any cashier’s or certified check with the issuing bank.
  • Do not rely on the phone number printed on the check; look up the issuing bank’s phone number yourself if you plan to call. The bank can verify the routing number, account number and name on the account. The issuing bank will even verify if there are funds available to cover the designated amount.

Phishing Scams

Always be wary of text messages or emails that include links. Fraudsters will often use these links to attempt to bring you to a fake version of the site. The purpose of this is to obtain your login credentials in order to use your account to post fraudulent listings. If you receive an email that includes links, we recommend taking the following precautions to avoid falling victim to them:

  • Check the “from” address to ensure that it is legitimate.
  • Hover over the links, but don’t click on them. When hovering over a link you will generally receive a small pop-up message that displays the URL the link will take you to. If this looks suspicious, do not click the link.
  • Analyze the greeting and grammar. If the email is vague (e.g., “Hello, Valued Customer”) or the grammar is poor, odds are higher that the email is illegitimate.

While the above auto fraud awareness steps should help bring some protection against phishing scams, there is no way to 100% guarantee an email’s legitimacy. Generally, the safest option is to not click on any links and to go directly to within your web browser. If you ever have any hesitation or think something looks suspicious, please feel free to forward it to

Other Helpful Information

Keep in mind that does not own, buy or sell the vehicles listed on our site. We also do not get involved in transactions between buyers and sellers. Any correspondence you have regarding a particular vehicle occurs directly between you and the seller.

We will never ask you to provide personal or financial information via email. If you receive an unsolicited email that claims to be from, reach out to us to verify it prior to taking any other action. This includes requests for information such as:

  • Username or password
  • Bank account information
  • Credit card information

Again, if you should ever have any questions or complaints about something that seems suspicious, please never hesitate to reach out to the Fraud Prevention Department at or 888-780-1286. We are here to help!’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.