At Anderson Behel, we recently saw a news story here in Santa Clara, CA about a Craigslist transaction concerning the sale of a vehicle and it was frightening. How can we effectively protect ourselves from being harmed, robbed, or even worse, murdered by trying to purchase or sell a car via Craigslist?
Because it has become a national epidemic, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) recently has issued a warning about a highly organized, multi-state swindle where people are getting bogus bank checks and losing their vehicles as a result.
According to CNN.com, the NICB recently reported that there have been as many as 100 occurrences in California where a seller purchased a car and presented what appeared to be a legitimate bank check (also known as cashier checks). Bank checks are much different from personal checks because they guarantee that the funds are made immediately available. Personal checks, as probably most of us know how to “clear” before the seller can gain access to the money. Most people that sell things on Craigslist or other similar listing sites, will often take a bank check to pay for the transaction instead of cash. Buyers prefer the convenience of bank checks because they don’t have to carry large amounts of cash with them.
Now scammers are counterfeiting bank checks and using them to buy vehicles and many of them are getting away with it. Usually, these criminals are operating in states where you can sell your car and still have a loan balance. Victims that were scammed by these completely bogus checks not only had their vehicles stolen, but will still have to pay their remaining balances on their auto loans.
To protect yourself against these types of scams you must always require that the buyers bring money to the transaction. However, with the risk of being robbed on everyone's minds, they might not be comfortable with that approach. Another suggestion is to conduct the transaction at a public meeting place, such as a restaurant, cafe, bank or police station. and have an employee examine the bank check for its authenticity. Many cities have created "Safe Trade Zones” where buyers and sellers can do safe transactions under lights and while being photographed via a series of surveillance video cameras.
The bottom line is that you should not for any reason to release your vehicle and the title until the funds have completely cleared and you receive documentation confirming it. Be safe and be smart and you will never be the victim of a Craigslist car sales scam.
Sources: CNN, NBC News and SF Examiner