Selling a car online? Avoid these common scams

Selling cars online doesn’t always go well, not in the least because there are some unscrupulous folk out there. Here’s how to avoid being scammed.

Online shopper ready to pay

Websites like eBay, Gumtree, and of course ours, have simplified the way people buy and sell cars. That’s why many drivers now choose to sell their vehicle online rather than heading to a dealer or placing an advert in a newspaper.

However, among the honest buyers there are those who are always trying to take advantage of unsuspecting sellers.

This guide looks at the most common scams. Read on so you don’t get ripped off.

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The “I don’t need to see it” scam

Buying a car without viewing it beforehand isn’t unheard of, but it’s pretty unusual – so be wary when someone is ready to buy your vehicle without seeing it in person first.

A buyer may get into an accident or damage the car on purpose, and then claim that it was already damaged when they bought it. They may then try to make you pay for something that wasn’t your fault.

To avoid this scam make sure you describe your car accurately and fully when creating your advert online, including any faults with the vehicle.

For extra peace of mind, as well as trying to find a buyer who would like to see your car in person, you can also ask them to sign a “sold as seen” receipt before a sale is agreed.

The “I’m currently abroad but I can pay online” scam

Some fraudsters will try to buy and pay for your car using online payment methods, such as PayPal. They might even try to fool you by saying they work for a large, well-known company, hoping it will make them look more trustworthy.

Keep in mind that fraudsters will often ask very legitimate questions regarding the vehicle and its condition, so they sound more believable.

However, when it comes to payment, shortly after you close the deal you’ll receive a fake receipt masked as a genuine email from the online payment company. But in reality no money has been sent.

The scammer will then ask you to ship the car or to organise a freight company to pick up the vehicle for them.

Another similar scam is when a buyer will claim they have paid but the online payment service provider (eg PayPal) is holding the money until you ship the car.

Be wary of email receipts. Before you part with your car, make sure the money has reached your bank account.

Buyer opening a car door

The “Oops, I think I overpaid you. Can you refund me the extra?” scam

Again, it pays to be extra wary when dealing with potential buyers who can’t meet you and pay in person. The fraudster will suggest sending you a cheque, pay via bank transfer or send you money online, but “by mistake” overpay you.

You’ll then be asked to pay them back the extra. 

But in fact the cheque is forged, the bank transfer hasn’t happened at all or the payment receipt you’ve received to your email is fake.

If you find yourself in this situation, before you refund the overpaid amount, simply wait until the cheque clears, the bank transfer reaches your account or log in to the payment website.


The “This car is not worth the price. Can you knock off a few quid?” scam

The goal of the scammer here is to undervalue the car and make you think the price you’re asking for isn’t realistic. They might even bring an “expert” with them to carry out checks when viewing the vehicle.

Both of them will then try to convince you that the car isn’t worth the money, because there are things that need fixing.

The scammer’s aim here is to put the car back on the market and sell it for much more than they have paid you. However, you can outsmart the fraudsters by having your car inspected beforehand.

Check for any issues and make sure you known the true value of your vehicle and how much other drivers are selling that same model for.

Car dealership

Top tips to protecting yourself online

Be smart and take your time when selling your car. These are our top tips to staying safe when selling online:

  • Thoroughly describe the car when creating your advert.

  • Be wary when dealing with buyers who avoid seeing the car in person.

  • Don’t be fooled by fake email receipts.

  • Use search engines to check a buyer’s phone number and email when in doubt.

  • Take your time with money transfers and cheques.

  • Make sure you’ve been paid before you part with the car.

  • Don’t let other people pay for the car on the behalf of the buyer.