Craigslist scams are nothing new, but it's getting easier and easier to avoid them. Here are 6 rules to follow if you want to buy or sell your car on Craigslist.

No matter how many times we hear about the current Craigslist scams, it’s still the go-to site for buying and selling, especially when it comes to cars. It’s simply one of the easiest ways to sell your car via private sale.

If you’re going to buy or sell your car on Craigslist, there are a few rules you should follow that can guarantee you’ll avoid scams.

1. Meet the buyer/seller in-person, and preferably not alone

If you’re selling a car on Craigslist, stick to buyers in your area, and always meet them in person before accepting any money. And try to have someone come along with you.

I’ve both bought and sold my car on Craigslist, without a hitch, and each party always had an extra person with them. It’s always best to play it safe.

You’ll want to avoid any ad that offers to ship the car to you. If that sounds too good to be true, it is. They’ll want you to wire money, and if you do you’ll never see the car or the money again.

2. Look for good, clear pictures

The best way to sell your car quickly, and to a seller that is really interest, is by posting as much information and as many clear pictures as possible. This will make you look like you’re legitimately selling a car.

The same thing goes for the buyer—focus on ads that provide these things.

3. If the ad or communication has poor language, be wary

This doesn’t just apply to car scams, but it still holds true. If the add or your email/texts between the buyer or seller contain constant grammatical errors, that’s a big red flag. You’re likely not talking with a person, but a massed produced email that gets sent to everyone trying to sell something in the hopes that you’ll eventually wire money to them and they’ll be able to wipe out your bank account.

Even if they’re not trying to scam you, someone who doesn’t put a little effort into their ad isn’t someone you probably want to do business with.

When buying or selling, it’s best to have a contact number, so you can call and make sure you’re speaking with a real person and ask any additional questions you may have.

4. Know the price of the car

If someone is selling a car for dramatically less than it’s worth, even in used condition, there’s probably a reason, and it likely isn’t a good one. There are a lot of ads that have the price listed as $1—this is a scam.

Or, on the opposite end of the scale, while not a direct scam, plenty of sellers try to sell overpriced cars to unaware customers. With all our access to car buying sites like Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds, this shouldn’t happen. You can easily look up how much the car you’re buying or selling is worth based on the age, condition, and area you live in.

Whether you’re selling or buying, have proof that the car is worth X amount, that way the buyer or seller can’t demand an unfair price.

At the same time, if you’re buying, don’t try to get a super discounted price for every dent or scratch. It’s Craigslist, after all, not a dealership. If you want a perfect car, that’s where you’ll need to go.

5. Make sure you see (or have) all the right paperwork

When you buy a car from a private seller, you’ll need to change the registration in your name. In order to do this, you need the previous owner(s) to sign over the title to you.

If the seller can’t produce a title, this will cause you a lot more trouble in the future, and isn’t a good sign.

Make sure you have all the other paperwork required, including a bill of sale.

6. Pay in cash, never wire money

Never wire money or ask your buyer to wire money. That’s the number one rule when buying and selling on Craigslist.

When you meet with a seller, they’ll likely ask for cash. It’s best to give and receive payments in cash. After paying, if you have to leave the car in order to get new plates and the registration in your name, make sure you get the keys.

For higher-value cars, cash may not be practical, and the buyer may ask to pay by certified check. (Unlike a personal check, a certified check is issued by your bank, which withdraws the money at the time the check is printed rather than when it is cashed.)  The problem is, sophisticated scammers can create forged certified checks that look convincing. Often, the only time you’ll know a certified check is fake is when you try to deposit it.

If you want to accept a certified check when selling your car, ask the seller to meet you at their bank and have the bank issue the certified check in front of you. Most banks will be happy to give you an area where you can also sign over the car’s paperwork, as well.


When you buy or sell your car on Craigslist, you’re subject to a certain amount of scammers. But, it’s pretty easy to avoid these scams if you know what to look for.

Make sure you do a little research before going onto Craigslist, that way you’ll be able to tell legit adds from the not-so-legit ones.

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About the author

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Christopher Murray is a professional personal finance and sustainability writer who enjoys writing about everything from budgeting to unique investing options like SRI and cryptocurrency. He also focuses on how sustainability is the best savings tool around. You can find his work on sites like MoneyGeek, Money Under 30, Investor Junkie, MoneyCrashers, and Time. You can find out more about Christopher on his website or via LinkedIn.