How to avoid car selling scams with examples

Whether you’re buying or selling a car, there’s a significant sum of money on the line. Whilst the vast majority of car transactions are completed honestly, being aware of potential scams can prevent you from being left out of pocket.

In this guide, we will cover tips and guidance to help you avoid fraudulent car buyers and sellers. We’ll also highlight the various red flags that indicate buyers and sellers may not be genuine, the safest ways to make and receive payment – and how to transfer ownership.

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Avoiding fraudulent car buyers

Thankfully, truly fraudulent car buyers are relatively rare. However, it’s helpful to know how to distinguish between a bad actor and a legitimate buyer who is simply being difficult.

To help you navigate the car market with confidence, we’ll expose some of the most prevalent tricks and scams used by unscrupulous car buyers – and explain how to avoid them.

Common car buying scams and red flags

  • Overpayment

    It’s extremely rare that a legitimate buyer will overpay a seller; most of us would double check the total before sending a large payment.

    Nevertheless, if you do receive an overpayment, you should simply decline the payment and ask the buyer to send the correct amount. If they refuse, simply stop engaging with them.

  • Agreeing to buy without viewing the car

    It’s also unlikely that a genuine buyer would agree to buy a car that they hadn’t seen for themselves.

  • Using stolen credit cards

    A buyer using a stolen credit card typically has a very small window to make transactions before it’s reported stolen, or the bank detects suspicious activity.

    Fraudulent buyers may put pressure on you to complete the sale quickly – and perhaps even offer to pay above the asking price.

    If you suspect that a buyer is using a stolen card, back out of the sale immediately.

  • Instant interest

    • If a user bombards you with messages minutes after you’ve listed your car, treat this with suspicion.
    • If they pressure you into contacting them by text or email instead of corresponding through your chosen car selling platform, this is another hallmark of a scam.
  • Requesting alternative payment methods

    If you are selling through Facebook Marketplace or eBay Motors, a scammer may ask you to bypass the platform and complete the payment through Venmo, Cash App or a wire transfer.

    They may also ask you to pay via PayPal, only to report that the car was not delivered after the point of sale. As it will be difficult for you to prove otherwise, PayPal may refund them, leaving you out of pocket and without a car.

  • Brand new profile

    If a user messages you through a car advertising website or social media app, look at their profile before engaging with them.

    Was their profile created very recently, perhaps with the sole intention of enquiring about your car? Is their profile picture blank? Do they have friends on the platform? Do their previous interactions look natural?

    Asking yourself these questions can help you distinguish scammers from genuine buyers.

Avoiding scams when meeting car buyers

It’s especially important to be vigilant when meeting prospective buyers. Here are a few pointers to help you stay safe and avoid falling for scams:

  • Ask a friend or family member to accompany you

    Having someone else accompany you whilst showing a car to a prospective buyers can make the process less stressful. They’ll also be able to watch out for any suspicious behaviour during the viewing.

  • Get a valuation prior to meeting buyers

    Our free car valuation tool can tell you what your motor is worth. You can use this figure to set a realistic asking price. It will also help you gauge what is and isn’t a reasonable offer.

  • Watch out for the ‘dirty oil trick’

    The ‘dirty oil trick’ involves one viewer distracting the car owner whilst their accomplice discretely pours oil into the coolant reservoir. This will cause smoke to pour out of the engine during the test drive. The viewer will then demand a significant discount, claiming there is a head gasket fault.

    To avoid this scam, take pictures of your car’s engine bay and coolant bottle, noting the colour of the coolant and oil. Do not leave the viewer unattended while they look under the bonnet. (This is why it is helpful to have a friend accompany you whilst meeting viewers.)

    Demonstrating the dipstick, oil cap and coolant before you start the engine will signal that you are aware of this scam and should help to discourage any viewers from attempting it.

    Important: If you discover coolant in your oil reservoir, don’t drive your car until it is fixed. Head gaskets can be expensive to replace.

  • Be wary of identity theft

    • Do not allow viewers to photograph sensitive paperwork.
    • Some scammers purporting to be genuine buyers just want to obtain your full name, address and personal details from your paperwork, which they may use to commit identity fraud.
    • You should only show viewers the V5C logbook, MOT and one form of photo identification such as your driving licence.
    • If viewers want to investigate the vehicle’s history, they can run a HPI check.
  • Accept a safe method of payment

    • The safest and most convenient way to receive payment is through a direct bank transfer.
    • You only need to provide the account number, sort code and the account holder’s name.
    • You should never provide your card number, security code or expiry date. These details could be used to commit fraud.
    • If you accept cash, arrange to meet the buyer at the bank, so that the teller can confirm whether the money is genuine and that the correct amount has been paid.
    • A cheque will bounce if the buyer has insufficient funds in their account. If you do accept payment by cheque, wait until the payment has cleared before handing over the keys.
    • Do not accept a deposit or agree to receive payment in instalments. An unscrupulous buyer may simply disappear with your car after paying the deposit.
    • Whichever method of payment you accept, always check that the full sum has been paid into your account before handing the vehicle over.
  • Staying safe when meeting car buyers

    • Don’t agree to meet a buyer at an unfamiliar location. A car thief could try to lure you to a remote spot to take your car by force.
    • We would advise against meeting buyers at your home address, particularly if this is where you keep your car overnight. By doing so, you risk attracting car thieves.
    • Before allowing any prospective buyers to take a test drive in your car, make sure that they have a valid driving licence and insurance.
    • If they don’t, you can always offer to demonstrate the car on their behalf.
    • Never allow anyone to test drive your car unsupervised.
    • Never leave the keys in the ignition.
    • Ask a friend or family member to accompany you during viewings and test drives if possible.

Safely transferring ownership of a car

  • To ensure you sell your car safely and legally, you must transfer ownership at the point of sale.
  • The registered keeper must notify the DVLA online - or complete the V5C logbook with the new keeper’s details and send it to the DVLA to transfer ownership.
  • It is your legal responsibility to notify the DVLA when you sell your car. If you fail to do so, you could be fined up to £1,000.
  • You could also be liable for any motoring fines accrued by the new owner if they cannot be tracked down.

Sell your car safety with webuyanycar

Want to avoid the risk of private selling scams? Selling your car to webuyanycar is simple, safe and secure. Here’s how it works:

  • Get a free car valuation in under 30 seconds.
  • Book an appointment at any of our 500+ UK branches.
  • Drive to your appointment. Happy to sell? We’ll assist with the paperwork and send the money to your bank!